Friday, January 15, 2010

The Daily Strike-1/15/10-Why Massachusetts Matters

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I didn't expect to be devoting so many of my entries early this year on political races, but I am forced to due to the political tsunami taking place in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

MA-SEN: As morbid as I've been about this race over the past few days, I'm actually feeling even worse today. For one, Republican Scott Brown has all of the momentum. His supporters are enthused and ready to get out and vote. He got a blaring headline today in the Boston Herald about his new found lead in the Suffolk poll that read "GREAT SCOTT!" Every political pundit from left to right is talking about how he could pull off the upset of the century. In fact, rumor has it that Coakley's own internal polling is now showing her behind.

On the contrary, Democrat Martha Coakley seems to be really floundering right now. She's made a bunch of gaffes, like when she seemingly criticized her opponent for campaigning in the cold outside Fenway Park. More to the point, she's shown absolutely no passion on the campaign trail. She has given no real indication to voters what she stands for or why she's in this race to begin with. She assumed for weeks that she was going to coast to a victory, so she basically didn't campaign much. She held rallies with her core supporters, but she did no traditional politicking (shaking hands) nor did she air a single advertisement. In a normal political environment, Coakley might have been able to get away with this in a liberal state like Massachussetts, where voters are naturally inclined to support Democrats. Unfortunately, this is not a normal political environment. The environment is playing out in the following ways, all of which are bad for the Democrats:

1. Republicans are angry. They are passionately angry. They don't like Obama, they don't like his policies, and they want to do whatever they can to rebuke him. Translation: they will come out to vote enthusiastically.

2. Independents are souring on the Democrats. They don't think that Democratic policies are helping to ease the economic crisis. They don't like that the Democrats have been so ambitious with a left-wing legislative agenda. If they WERE going to pursue such an ambitious agenda, why aren't things getting better yet? Independents right now are polling about 2-to-1 for Republican candidates from Virginia, to New Jersey, to Massachusetts.

3. Democrats are frustrated and turned off. They worked so hard to get Obama elected and 2008, and so far what they've gotten are legislative setbacks, gridlock, and broken promises. Few of them will turn to the Republican party (although the Suffolk poll showed that 17 (!) percent of Democrats were supporting Brown), but many of them will simply become disinterested in politics for awhile, and maybe they don't show up at the polls.

This perfect storm of negative dynamics for the Democrats, combined with a less than adequate campaign from Coakley, has made the race a toss-up at best. Many pundits today are calling Brown the new presumptive favorite.

A Brown win would be, simply, catastrophic for Democrats. Let's list the reasons.

1. Health care reform. Without 60 votes in the Senate, the Democrats probably don't have the votes to enact an emerging House-Senate compromise on health reform. To get health reform passed, they'd either have to try and pick off Republican Olympia Snowe (unlikely, in my view), hold a vote before Brown got seated, or the House would have to accept the current Senate bill verbatim. None of these options is particularly appealing. The optics of Democratic members of Congress approving a bill that voters in the most liberal state have seemingly rejected would not be good. Plus, knowing the weak willed Democrats in both the House and Senate, you know Brown's loss would send them running for the hills.

2. The rest of Obama's agenda would also be imperil. It's bad enough that Brown would be the 41st Republican vote, enough to sustain a filibuster. A Brown victory would show vulnerable Democrats across the country that they are in a world of trouble. These freaked out Democrats will run away from the Obama agenda altogether, or they will opt for retirement, making the 2010 November election landscape even more perilous.

News just came out an hour or so ago that President Obama will be traveling to Boston to campaign with Coakley on Sunday. The President, even if the Suffolk poll, is viewed favorably among voters in Massachusetts, so his appearance should seemingly be quite helpful. It also could be a great way to get Democratic voters fired up and involved. On the other hand, Obama's visit carries political risks. If he shows up and she loses, it will be evidence that his campaigning prowess is limited, even in a dark blue state. Furthermore, Obama's appearance might draw the ire of Republicans, and give them even more reason to show up to the polls.

Simply put, Democrats could be in for an extremely painful, difficult night on Tuesday. We don't know yet what the exact electorate will look like, meaning there's a lot we won't know until the results start pouring in. But no matter what happens, this has been an unnecessary, brutal headache for the Democrats, and it's keeping me up late at night.

If you live in Massachusetts, please go vote for Martha Coakley. If not, make a few calls, or donate a couple of bucks.

I'll see you on Monday morning. Maybe we'll have some better news by then.

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