Not so blue Monday in Massachusetts [UPDATED]

By mw | Related entries in Massachusetts

Is there a better political story than the Brown/Coakley special election in Massachusetts? This is a much more exciting contest than either of the playoff games on Sunday. The latest (and last) Public Policy Poll has Brown up by 5 points, the Merriam River Group has him up by 9.7% and a Massachusetts bellweather city poll has him up by 15 points. This live Pollster.com graph is a composite of all polls:

While those crossed hockey sticks are pretty compelling, the outcome remains uncertain. Nate Silver explains why…

“It’s certainly tempting to take the Ockham’s Razor argument for Brown — “look at the trendlines, duuuude!” — which has become the conventional wisdom even if nobody is saying it. And it’s perhaps just as tempting to play the role of the contrarian, sort of buy the rumor and sell the news, and insist that Coakley will leg it out. But for the time being — and subject to change based on last-minute polling — I’m not comfortable with any characterization of this race other than too close to call.

… then expands on the risks of trendspotting here. Charlie Cook, like Nate Silver still calls it a toss-up, but unlike Nate, is leaning to Brown. Regardless of whether you agree or trust their political leanings, these are smart analysts. I suspect they are right and this will be a very close race. After all, this is still Massachusetts.

The simple reality is this: Boston is a Democratic party machine city, and Massachusetts is a Democratic state. A political machine is designed to manufacture votes. No need to invoke anything illegal, just basic old style, precinct by precinct footwork, “walking around money”, busloads of voters rounded up and driven to the polls, preachers in the pulpits delivering the flock, etc. No matter how large the enthusiasm gap in a campaign, nothing can get out the vote more effectively than an army of foot soldiers on the ground manning a well oiled political machine. The question in Massachusetts is whether the machine was greased and ready, or whether Dems could crank it up fast enough once they knew they had a problem. OTOH, if the foot soldiers decide to change teams or desert their posts, the machine does not work as well. Another question is whether Libertarian candidate Joseph Kennedy will siphon a couple of percentage points from Brown (or Coakley). This election cannot be predicted and will likely be a nail biter. Maybe even Al Franken close and settled in the courts.

The last big effort to turn back the Scott Brown tide was in evidence all weekend. It had two tracks, a high road, and a low road.

On the high road, President Obama arrived to headline a rally of Democratic Party luminaries stumping for Martha Coakley. Among them, Representative Patrick Kennedy, who explained that, a vote for Scott Brown is really a vote for George W. Bush, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino who denounced the “dot coms” that are pouring money into Browns campaign. Scott Brown held a competing event, billed the “Peoples Rally” where he drew as big a crowd as the president, favoring local heroes like Curt Schilling and Doug Flutie over Republican pols. His comments from the rally here.

On the low road, the Massachusetts Democratic Party distributed a glossy mass mailer falsely claiming that Scott Brown wants hospitals to turn away rape victims. It was denounced by liberals and conservatives alike and may prompt a defamation lawsuit. Closer to the norm of electioneering partisan nonsense, a 2008 you tube clip with Brown questioning whether Obama’s mother was married was widely distributed across the left-o-sphere. The intent was apparently to link Brown to birthers. The charge itself was quite a reach, and didn’t stick, but not for lack of trying. Even a Nobel Prize winning economist chose to cheapen his New York Times column, using it as a platform for distributing this pure partisan hackery.

Byron York of the Washington Examiner concludes that the electorate’s preference for divided and balanced government is one of “Two factors will decide Massachusetts Senate race”:”

“After all the speeches, politicking, and attack ads, there are just two issues that will determine the winner of the Massachusetts Senate seat in Tuesday’s special election. The first is health care and the second is one-party government. And in Massachusetts, neither issue works exactly as outsiders might think — and right now both are working in favor of Republican Scott Brown… And for the independent voters who will play a critical role in Tuesday’s election, Massachusetts’ one-party rule mirrors the one-party rule in today’s Washington, where national Democrats are deciding important issues among themselves without even the pretense of including Republicans… Given the uniqueness of Massachusetts politics, voters’ feelings about the top two issues in this election — health care and one-party rule — seem unlikely to be affected much by outside appeals, whether they be from President Obama, former President Clinton, or former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who campaigned for Brown on Friday. What do those outsiders have to add to the public’s understanding of how the issues play out in Massachusetts? State voters have their own distinctive perspective, and that is what will guide their decision on Tuesday.”

HOPE (for divided government) floats. I am getting a tingly feeling in my leg.

UPDATE: Nate Silver throws in the towel – 538 Model Posits Brown as 3:1 Favorite

ELECTION DAY UPDATE:
This is what I’m tracking: The prediction market at InTrade.com showed Brown with an 80% probability of winning early, dropping to 60% (a big bet on Coakley?) now rising again back over 80%. If you buy into the notion that a robust prediction market with real people betting real money is the best poll, this looks like a done deal (click graphic for current graph).


For fun, I am following Professor Jacobson’s Live Tuesday comment feed at Legal Insurrection and Stacy McCain at The Other McCain – just to revel in the excitement and energy.

Here’s hoping this political wave makes it to the left coast and a return to divided government.

x-posted from “Divided We Stand United We Fall


This entry was posted on Monday, January 18th, 2010 and is filed under Massachusetts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 Responses to “Not so blue Monday in Massachusetts [UPDATED]”

  1. Frank Hagan Says:

    Its a huge negative for the Dems now, even if Coakley wins by a few points. The mask is off, and the elections in Virginia and New Jersey are now in clearer focus: the Dems are in trouble.

    If Brown wins a squeaker the recount will be long and nasty, in order to delay seating the blocking vote. That will be effective from the Senate’s point of view, but is bound to increase the sour taste about the Dems in the public’s mouth.

    If Brown “outperforms”, with a spread over 5 points, it will be time for the Obama Administration to shun the Pelosi-Reid faction of the party and embrace moderate Dems like Jim Webb and Evan Bayh. Look for calls for a new Majority Leader in the Senate. That could improve the party’s chances in 2010.

    Tides rise and fall, but the trend early in 2010 looks nasty indeed for the left.

  2. mw Says:

    @Frank: “time for the Obama Administration to shun the Pelosi-Reid faction of the party”

    I wonder. Congressional Democrats are in quite the box on HCR now. A president that is hell-bent on passing something/anything called Health Care Reform, and the reality that every day they spend debating the bill erodes public support for the party.

    I’m thinking they’ll be in a panic to just get it behind them as quickly as possible, rip the band-aid off, and go into damage control mode before the elections. That means taking the Senate bill as is, dropping it on the floor of the House, and taking a straight up or down vote.

    For all the laughably absurd nonsense about obstructionist Republicans, the only obstruction to President Obama getting the HCR bill he wants on his desk, are Nancy Pelosi and the 279 Democrats in the House of Representatives. If 218 of them vote for that bill, there are no conferences, no filibusters, no reconcilliation, no more votes in the Senate. It is done, and they can finally move on.

  3. Nick Benjamin Says:

    Frank,
    If Brown loses it will be a big deal. There are two reasons for this: one, everybody is talking about it like it should be a win. If it’s not a win they aren’t going to be talking about how much he scared Coakley, they’re going to be talking about how he lost even tho all the polls said he should win.

    Two, if he loses it will mean the GOP has lost every election for Federal Office since last November. Including this one (which they should have won), and NY-23 which hadn’t had a non-Republican represent it since before the Civil War.

    Three, the media needs a new narrative. They’ve talked about the backlash for months, therefore it’s no longer shiny and new. If there is any way to distract them from that story they will take it. And given point two they have a distraction. They story will be that the backlash already peaked.

    Four, health reform will get done in the next couple weeks if there are 60 votes. Given the strong GOP opposition, and everyone’s exagerated claims about the impact this bill will have, that will be a massive success. Nothing succeeds like success, sausage sells better than sausage-making, etc.

    Not that it matters much. My head says Coakley could still pull this out, and it’s even got a bunch of great justifications (special election, blue state, etc.) but this one does not feel winnable right now.

  4. kranky kritter Says:

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in these polls as anything other than rough measures, not without seeing the numbers for the groups and genders. I too believe Coakley can win, although all the momentum is with Brown. We’ll see what the Boston Globe releases for election day. You can be sure they’ll do something to help Coakley on gameday. Count on it.

    Turnout will decide this one. Don’t be too surprised if Boston has 103% turnout. LOL. :-) Boston is indeed a dem machine city, but the power of the dem machine in the burbs varies. In the end, will there be enough male and suburban/rural votes for Brown to overcome the urban and female vote for Coakley?

    One thing that’s clear is that the democrats are in total panic mode. We got at least 4 phone calls today. One was from a volunteer in washington state. Another was a live worker who was clearly unpracticed. They are throwing every resource at this.

    As far as the spin folks have suggested, I’ll take a pass on the notion of moral victory for the GOP, or whatever you want to call it. For the democrats, a win will be a win. Probably gets ‘em across the healthcare goalline, and leads to the run up to the midterms with the democrats still dtermining the legislative agenda. Beyond that, we already know that conciliation and moderation are going to be necessary for Obama after the mid-terms, so if it comes sooner, what’s the big deal?

    One thing I think folks are not paying enough attention to is the upcoming effort (after healthcare, however that turns out) to pass legislation on restrictions on Wall St.

    Hands up, who think the GOP’s unanimity dies on that altar? I Know I do. All this dumbass rhetoric about Obama’s radical agenda will fall totally flat when this takes center stage. There isn’ t a Republican congresscritter up for 2010 re-election who wants to go home to campaign on stopping “curbs on greedy fatcats.” So all you prognosticators out there should chew on how that’s going to play while making fall predictions.

    My captcha? I sh!t you not, City cadaver. IOW, a vote for Coakley. What a riot!

  5. Doomed Says:

    If you guys on the left can stop spinning a loss here for a moment and think about the parallels that the Obama admin is running next to GWB then I think you had better hope for a LOSS today.

    GWB destroyed the GOP. Everything it was….he abandoned.

    Everything it stood for, he threw out the door. He became fixated on an AGENDA….the war on terror….and his party jumped on the band wagon with him thinking it was the way to go.

    In the end with poll numbers in the 30′s…..The GOP decimated at the polls…..I wonder how many of them are thinking this is EXACTLY what the Americans wanted….

    Evidently not…..they kicked them all out with their feet and their votes.

    Obama and the Democrats have the opportunity to change course…become the centrist, bipartisan NON SWAMP politicians they promised almost a full year before the 2010′s if they lose today.

    If they win….it will literally be a Bataan Death March very similar to the one the Republicans took with GEORGE W. BUSH. Because they are convinced this Bullshit, failure to cover 1/2 of the uninsured, guaranteed to cost us 10x more then medicare ever did bill will be passed because THEY CAN.

    Heath care reform….AMEN….I agree

    But this?

    This bill?

    This bill is Obama and the Democrats IRAQ.

  6. kranky kritter Says:

    Who’s “on the left?” Besides Nick?

  7. mw Says:

    @KK
    Jim S, Chris, MR, Hankster, and of course Justin. But Justin is MIA. He appears to have left the keys of the asylum to the inmates and it does noticeably change the slant when he takes his thumb off the left side scale.

  8. kranky kritter Says:

    My update: held my nose and voted for Coakley. Primarily because I didn’t believe Scott Brown when he said he just wants healthcare reform to go “back to the drawing board.” I wasn’t happy about my vote. The democrats bathed us all in a bunch of bull. The person who really deserved my vote was Kennedy, the only candidate who spoke useful truth to the people. Which is that the problem is not taxes, it’s spending.

    But I couldn’t indulge a protest vote for a non-viable candidate in an election so close.

    At noontime, the polls in my ward were quiet and empty. No waiting. It was probably busy from 7 to 8 this morning, though. One other reason why polls might not look very busy is because of how quickly voting goes when there is literally one one item on the ballot. 3 names, 3 bubbles, that was it.

    Weather may be depressing turnout some, it’s cold and rainy.

  9. mw Says:

    @KK
    Interesting. I assumed Kennedy votes would pull from Brown, but your vote indicates otherwise. In all cases, 3rd party protest votes are spoiler votes, that is why I stopped voting Libertarian. On that topic – an oldie but goodie. May have to brush that off and update it for this political season.

  10. kranky kritter Says:

    I think Kennedy could have gotten 5% to 10% if Brown hadn’t made a game of it. He really deserved it.

    I think you can make a good case for voting for an independent, libertarian, or what have you if the outcome is not in serious doubt or if the stakes are not as singularly high as these happened to be. I think such a vote can be a little more than a protest vote, it can be a message for pols to heed. And this would have been a good one. If Brown wins, it does send a similar message. Until the spinmeisters distort it to suit their agendas, of course

    A few years back an income tax repeal referendum made the ballot and surprisingly got 40+%, which caught pols attention. Not for long of course, but a noticed message. Leaving aside any debate about the possible effects of a Brown win on national politics, it should have some salutary effect on Massachusetts politics. If democrats choose to focus on excuses and ignore that it’s a loud shot across their “business as usual” bow, we could see some further beneficial changes locally. The perception of many MA voters outside of the metropolitan Boston area is that dominant democrats worship from a bible of traditional 70s liberalism, do what they feel like, and lecture at the unwashed folks whenever they complain about taxes, overspending, cronyism, and so on. And there’s a very strong perception that the embarassing weakness of the local GOP has let democrats get used to behaving in a corrupt, entitled, pedantic fashion.

    Personally, I’d like to see local political changes take the form of more independent and iconoclastic candidates instead of the form of rejuvenating a deeply undeserving MA GOP. But there’s little doubt in my mind that if Brown wins, the trumpeteers of the conservative values brigade will rush in to declare their reborn relevance. It’s depressing. I’m not aware of any secret stash of competent republicans capable of mounting serious challenges in local races. Many democrats run unopposed, or else they face a single-issue kook.

    MA voters are more independent and iconoclastic than they are conservative per se. [Not including the substantial contingent of pure blue liberals in Cambridge, Brookline, and so on). And I don’t think the closeness of this race goes any deeper than disgust at gross overspending and the high-handed demeanor of entitled incumbents. The GOP is a desirable solution to those problems for local voters only insofar as they restore the political dynamics that a state enjoys when elections are legitimate contests.

    For the GOP to establish a growing base here in MA, they really should avoid social issues, or finesse them better. But the party has shrunken so badly that social values true believers are the ones minding the store in most places outside Boston.

  11. Frank Hagan Says:

    Kranky, I think Brown is more of a moderate on social issues, isn’t he? I seem to remember him being pro-choice, or something like that. In some states, the Republican social moderate / fiscal conservative is a very appealing candidate (including here in California).

    One good thing about a 5 point win … there is no recount.

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