Post Election Analysis – January 19, 2010

While looking for something else on my computer, I came across this article I wrote back in January 2010 in the aftermath of Scott Brown’s election to the United States Senate. In the aftermath of Brown’s defeat this past Tuesday, I thought it might be worth a trip down memory lane to recall the circumstances around his earlier victory, at least as I saw them:

After the Coakley rally in Lowell on Saturday night, it seemed that Brown’s momentum had been checked and that he may have peaked too soon but that was clearly not the case. As anyone who has run a road race knows, when you commence your finishing kick to overtake the guy in front of you, that guy sometimes has a kick of his own and though you catch up momentarily, he quickly surges back into the lead and bolts across the finish line far in front of you. That’s what happened in this election.

Now that it’s over and Scott Brown is our new senator from Massachusetts, it’s time to talk about why things happened as they did. Certainly Brown ran a near flawless campaign and caught the imagination and the hopes of a wide-range of Massachusetts voters in a way no one – including Brown, I presume – could have foreseen back in early December. Here are some of the factors that I see contributing to Coakley’s defeat:

To the extent Republican candidates have been successful in Massachusetts, it’s been in statewide races. In gubernatorial elections, Weld beat Silber, Cellucci beat Harshbarger, and Romney beat O’Brien. In US Senate races, Romney gave Ted Kennedy a scare in 1994 and Bill Weld nearly defeated John Kerry in 1996. For whatever reason, when Massachusetts voters get angry enough to enact change via the ballot box, they seem to think “statewide” rather than “state rep.”

That said, I don’t see this as a Republican victory as much as it’s a populist revolt against the party in power. As Pete-in-Lowell wrote in response to a recent post,

Scott Brown’s momentum is not only a tribute to his abilities but to how smoothly things can go without heavy involvement from party machinery. I don’t think he’d be in this position if he had the full-throated support of the GOP from the outset.

Many of those who streamed to the polls in record numbers were ordinary citizens not obsessed with politics. They’re mostly unenrolled and two Novembers ago, they mostly voted for Barack Obama and his promise of change. Instead of change, however, they’ve been bombarded with endless headlines about the obscene bonuses now being paid to the very same bankers who are most responsible for causing the recession. Wall Street gets bailed out and rewarded, but the homeowner who is underwater on his mortgage gets nothing. No wonder everyone is so angry. No wonder they again voted against the party in power (even though it’s the party they voted for just 14 months ago).

Then there’s health care reform. The old saying “there are two things you never want to watch: the making of sausage and the making of legislation” was never more applicable than it is to the current health care reform efforts in Congress. Obama’s strategy seemed to be to get anything possible passed now as a kind of foot-in-the-door first step, and then the rest would fall into place later. In the process, deals were made with individual Senators, drug companies, insurance companies and unions. And the benefits to the average person (the same one frustrated by the bank bailout) were never described well or persuasively.

Two factors unique to this race made health care a particularly potent issue. First, the election is now, right in the midst of the ugliest part of the legislative process. If there had been no Senate special election here and Congress enacts something soon, its proponents will have the rest of the year to promote its benefits and perhaps win over some skeptical voters. The second problem is that the Senate race is in Massachusetts where we already have pretty good health insurance. Many I’ve talked to were suspicious that our costs will go up and our care will worsen as we subsidize the rest of the country. Continue reading

Warren victory a high point by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross-posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

Massachusetts finally did it!  It elected a woman to the U.S. Senate.  And what a woman she is!  After a miserable campaign start, in which she turned off even her supporters by appearing too prim, preachy, professorial and sometimes suffocatingly earnest, Elizabeth Warren finally got it. As the campaign moved away from her disappointing handling of the nettlesome issue of her Cherokee heritage, she became more sure of herself.  She blossomed.  Her affect brightened, and she projected warmth and authenticity.

Her intellect and creativity  were never in question, nor was her commitment to ordinary people and fostering economic opportunity for the middle class.  She was able to deal with Scott Brown’s occasionally bipartisan record by keeping the focus on what was at stake, Republican control of the Senate. Did voters really want  Mitch McConnell to become Senate President or Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a climate change denier, to chair the committee on the environment? As the founder of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, her creds in financial services are impressive; Wall Street was probably not too happy when Warren was the victor in the race. (There’s a sweet irony to her going to the Senate which blocked her appointment to head the newly created bureau.)

Her ebullience last night was infectious.  Her graciousness toward Brown was generous.  Her promise to “break partisan gridlock” was strategic and effective as she told Brown’s supporters, “I know I didn’t earn your votes, but I’m going to work to earn your support.”

Brown was equally generous (“She won it fair and square. May she bring that Senate office great credit”), affable, ever the frat boy, broadly smiling as if the gathering of disappointed supporters were just another pretty darned terrific party.  His most tantalizing remark was that “defeat is only temporary.”  It seems clear that he will run for office again.  The only question is whether it will be for U.S. Senate (if John Kerry replaces Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, opening up his seat) or for Massachusetts governor.  In a Senate special election, he would appear to be a prohibitive favorite, unless Deval Patrick got in the race. If Brown decided to wait to run for governor, would he go  head-to-head with 2010 Republican nominee Charlie Baker or would Baker simply defer to Brown?

In the end, Brown’s good guy image (increasingly tarnished by negative campaign advertising, compounded by his venomous attacks on Warren during their televised debates) wasn’t enough to overcome the 20-point Obama margin in the state, but it could sustain him as he lays plans to run again, possibly as soon as next year.

Brown acquired instant national stature when he unexpectedly upended Martha Coakley to capture the seat long held by Ted Kennedy. Warren’s expertise in consumer and bankruptcy law, her determination in creating the consumer financial bureau, and her willingness to stand up to Wall St. had given her national stature even before she decided to run. Assuming she doesn’t limit her effectiveness by being reflexively partisan, she has the potential to be not just a star, but a real leader.  She’s going to be very interesting to watch.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

Election outcome clearcut; the future, not so much by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The following entry is being cross-posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog. It was originally post on November 7, the day after the election.

Last night’s outcome was clearcut and gratifying, but the future is as complicated as ever. President Obama performed beyond many expectations in the electoral votes, garnering nearly 100 more than Romney before final numbers are in from Florida.  Obama carried all the swing states but North Carolina. He won among women, minorities and young people – everyone but whites, especially rich white men.  Romney, whose party is on the wrong side of demographic destiny, led among the elderly and those who oppose abortion, gay marriage, citizenship paths for illegal immigrants, and more progressive taxation.

Compared to the brilliant 21st century political “Moneyball-on-steroids organizing approach of the Obama campaign, Romney’s micro targeting of voters and get-out-the-vote operation were almost of the Gilded Age.  All the money advantage, spawned by Citizens United, went for naught.

Ironically, the numbers-driven Romney, who emotionally at the end seemed to think he had a path to victory, was beaten by a bloodless brain trust of quants that knew what it needed to do and executed the game plan to perfection (save for the first debate debacle.)

Fortunately for the President, he also won the popular vote, albeit by less than in 2008. Had he lost that, even while winning the electoral vote, his detractors would have tried to delegitimize his Presidency.  Winning with just over 50 percent, with nearly half the voters opposed to him or his policies and other millions of registered voters not caring enough to go to the polls, he is not in the same position as last time to claim a clear mandate.

The American people, while dissatisfied with the pace of the economic recovery, apparently believe the trend line is in the right direction.  Last night, the President asserted “We are not as divided as our politics suggest.”  Mitt Romney, in his gracious concession speech,  said, “We can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.”  Even John Boehner said, “If there is a mandate, it is a mandate to fund common ground.”

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who would have been Senate President but for the preservation of the Democratic majority in the upper branch, was more acid, saying,” it’s time for the president to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a closely divided Senate, step up to the plate on the challenges of the moment, and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office.”

It is still unclear whether the defeat of extremist Republicans Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, both in states that went for Romney, will loosen the hold of the Tea Party on the Republican leadership and incentivize moderation.  Had Mourdock won, the prospects for change would have been a lot less.

The next step is for the President to reach out immediately to longstanding critics in the House and Senate so the nation can avert the plunge off the fiscal cliff implicit in the sequestration budget or in simply kicking the can down the road.

The day after the election, the stock market dove more than 300 points. This morning the Wall Street Journal averred, “the republic will survive.”  Under Obama 1, we avoided the fiscal cliff and did survive.  In Obama 2, we need to prosper.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

November 8, 1960 ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy Elected President of the United States

It was on this day, November 8, 1960, that John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts was elected as the 35th  President of the United States.  He won against Republican candidate and then- Vice President Richard Nixon. Elected at the age of 43, Kennedy was the youngest man elected President; he was the youngest to die. . Kennedy was also the first president to be born in the 20th century and the only one to have won a Pulitzer Prize.

Learn more here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/johnfkennedy