Jan 17 2010

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“The 60th Vote”

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Can Scott Brown win?

Conventional wisdom certainly offers the Massachusetts GOP legislator cold comfort. By the numbers this shouldn’t be a race at all.

Consider that Massachusetts was the only state to vote for George McGovern in 1972.  In 2008, John McCain barely won 36% of the vote here.

Moreover, the last Republican to win a US Senate seat in Massachusetts was elected in 1962 and left the Senate 30 years ago; Edward Brookes.

Beyond these formidable ideological hurdles, voters are also filling the vacancy created by the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy; scion of the Kennedy dynasty – an integral part of Massachusetts’ political mythology – for a seat that has been virtual Kennedy family property for 56 years, adding a fresh dimension of nuance, narrative and history in the choice.

Given the circumstances, it is safe to wonder why state officials bothered with an election at all; instead simply slotting a Democrat for the seat based on historical precedent. Certainly this was the smug view of many Massachusetts Democrats who considered the December 8th Democratic primary as the de facto election, with the January 19th contest as a  formality.

That view, equal parts hubris and arrogance, was embraced by Massachusetts Attorney General and Democratic nominee, Martha Coakley. The AG’s subdued and passive organization wasted little time on the nitty-gritty of campaigning amongst citizens, instead relying on the traditional Democratic network of party officials and unions to turn out the right number of votes for victory.

It was not suppose to be so much an election as a coronation.

Enter Scott Brown, a Republican state Senator who won the nod from the Massachusetts GOP to be the ostensible “sacrificial lamb” in the race for the “Kennedy” seat in the US Senate.

Conventional wisdom would dictate that the only real way for a Republican to win in Massachusetts is to so blur the ideological lines between the candidates as to make the race turn on personality. Brown upended that wisdom by running a campaign directly challenging the central tenets of liberal orthodoxy, painting his campaign positions in bold, unapologetic stripes.

In the process, he has directly challenged the central tenets of Obamaism, and more specifically, the crown jewel of unfinished business from the Kennedy legacy – national health care.

While Coakley and Democratic officials took the election for granted based on historical experience, Brown barnstormed the state, tapping into the deep reservoir of frustration, disappointment and indignation created in the first year of Obama governance and Democratic dominance in Washington.

That discontent shows up in the polls.

According to polling from Rasmussen Reports, only 41% of Massachusetts voters believe the President’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan has helped. By 44-38% respondents said that increased government spending hurts the economy. 56% thought that tax hikes were bad for the economy.

Rasmussen also reports an intriguing result. By an overwhelming 65-21% Massachusetts voters believe that Christmas Day terror bomber in Detroit should be tried by the military for a terrorist act and not by a civil court for a civil crime, as the Obama administration is pursuing.

In this political environment, Brown staked out common sense policy positions that fall broadly in the Republican mainstream, with a focus on reduced taxes and government intrusion in the private market, and support for a strong national defense.

Central to Brown’s message is his promise to restore integrity and trust between voters and officials and to serve as an independent voice helping to fix a broken political system.

Crucially, in developing his policy positions Brown has made it difficult for Democrats to button-hole him in their favored caricature of “right wing zealot” and supporter of the status quo.

One need only read the gutter talk of NY Senator Chuck Schumer to see the tactic in action. Schumer heaps dishonor on his office and embarrassment on his constituents by calling Brown, “a far right tea-bagger.

Mainstream policy positions do not mean controversy free views, of course. On heath care, Brown’s promise to oppose Obamacare – to oppose Kennedy-care – should otherwise disqualify Brown as a serious candidate in Massachusetts.

But it hasn’t.

In making the pledge, Brown differentiates his opposition to the Obama-Reid-Pelosi health care abomination from his own support for genuine health care reform.

He correctly notes that Obamacare would increase taxes and the national debt, cut Medicare for seniors and have a net negative financial effect on Massachusetts, while other states get sweetheart deals.  He supports going back to the drawing board rather than passing bad legislation to simply pass “something.”

Similarly, while Brown is opposed to Cap N’ Trade because of the tax hikes and energy scarcity it engenders, he favors the development of clean technologies, just so long as national energy independence is the top priority.

Recognizing the social realities of Massachusetts, Brown has taken a libertarian view in supporting the right of states to make their own laws regarding civil unions and marriage, so long as the decision are arrived at though participatory elections and not legislative or judicial fiat.

Similarly Brown has stated his support for Roe v. Wade, but he opposes partial birth abortion, and favors regulation and notification procedures that reduce abortions and promote adoption.

In the War on Terror, Brown supports President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, but strongly opposes trying terrorists in civil courts. On national security issues, Brown speaks with the authority of an officer with a 30 year background in the Massachusetts National Guard.

In contrast to Brown, Martha Coakley seems to be the very embodiment of the disconnect between the Democratic elite and the electorate.

Coakley supports Obamacare and promises to support the legislation if elected, all though Americans nationally oppose the effort 55-40%.

Coakley also supports Cap N’ Trade, as well as President Obama’s newly announced tax on the financial sector. Coakley supports civil trials for terrorists and does not support the Obama-sponsored Afghan troop surge.

Perhaps more alarming and unfortunate, Coakley said the following in her debate with Brown regarding terrorists in Afghanistan:

“I am not sure there is a way to succeed.  If the goal was and the vision in Afghanistan was to go in because we believe the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists, we supported that, I supported that goal. They are gone, they are not there anymore…”

Coakley made the statement only days after eight CIA operatives were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

Taken all together, it is clear that an otherwise routine special election in Massachusetts has turned into a surrogate fight over the future of Obamaism.

And in that context, what is so fundamentally striking is that in a state with no natural advantage for the GOP, Scott Brown has turned the fight into a pick ‘em race, where Coakley once held a 32 point lead.

More than any single issue, Brown has successfully tapped into a simmering pool of voter outrage and disenchantment with elected leaders who promised change, but have delivered highly ideological and partisan policy, crafted in secret, in cahoots with liberal special interests, packaged in a contemptuous disregard for the concerns of average citizens, while chronic problems go unsolved.

This was manifest in 2009 by the emergence of the Tea Party movement, this summer’s robust town hall meetings, the 9-12 protest in Washington, and culminated in the November election defeats for Democrats in deep blue New Jersey and purple Virginia.

But Democrats have still not learned.

Stunningly, Brown’s surging poll numbers have Massachusetts’ Democratic officials considering how to delay certifying a Brown victory to allow health care to pass in Washington.

Moreover, Democratic leaders in Congress have redoubled their urgency to find a health care deal that can pass at the earliest opportunity, while strategists consider parliamentary tactics to cope with a potentially new balance of power in the Senate if Brown wins.

Late to see the growing political bow wave that could wash away the Obama agenda well before November, national Democrats are mobilizing in force. Bill Clinton has already been in to campaign for Coakley.  President Obama himself will put in a campaign appearance on Sunday.

Both did the same thing in New Jersey and Virginia last fall without result.

Moreover, if Brown’s surge can be attributed to generalized resentment of Establishment political arrogance over the past year, then the Obama visit may ultimately hurt more than it helps by tying Coakley every more tightly to the architects of that new political order.

So, can Scott Brown win?

Yes he can. A win ironically enabled by the very politics he does battle against.

And in a Brown win, the shear improbability of victory will serve as the measure of his consequence to Washington and the nation.

Democrats should be scared.

Very, very scared.


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