As I point out in my column on the main site today, one of the reasons Jim Ogonowski believes he has a chance to beat John Kerry in this fall’s Senate race is a Survey USA poll showing John McCain tied with Barack Obama. He’s not alone. Over the weekend, RealClearPolitics ran a piece arguing that McCain could carry Massachusetts.
Its author, Anil Adyanthaya, points to the commonwealth’s large independent vote as an area where McCain could garner support and suggests that Deval Patrick’s dismal record as governor will hurt the Democratic nominee. Adyanthaya further contends that Massachusetts favors centrist Democrats and native sons, concluding that Barack Obama might be too liberal to win over Bay State swing voters. Thus, a McCain-Obama contest could be the first competitive presidential race in Massachusetts in 24 years (which ought to please Ogonowski, since there was also a competitive Senate race against Kerry that year).
Adyanthaya’s argument has its weak and strong points. It’s true that Massachusetts is now plurality independent and that these voters are willing to support a Republican (many of them probably self-identify as Republicans). It’s also true that Gov. Patrick isn’t wildly popular. And on presidential elections, Adyanthaya is possibly understating things: In 1988, George H.W. Bush was competitive against home-state Gov. Michael Dukakis, and even beat Dukakis in the Greater Boston suburbs.
That said, early polls showed George W. Bush leading Al Gore in Massachusetts in 1999. In November 2000, Bush got slaughtered. Liberal Democrats can win statewide in Massachusetts: Leaving Kerry and Ted Kennedy aside, look at Patrick. George McGovern carried Massachusetts in 1972 when its political climate was arguably more conservative than it is right now. It’s hard to say that Obama’s primary loss to Hillary Clinton means that much more than McCain’s primary loss to Mitt Romney (McCain did beat Bush in the 2000 primary on the strength of independent voters). Republican presidential candidates have failed to break 40 percent in Massachusetts for twenty years. With economic uncertainty, an unpopular war, a GOP governor who left after a single term, and independents trending Democratic, this would be an odd political climate to see major Republican gains.
Could McCain pull it off? It’s conceivable. It’s just not the way to bet.