Thursday, October 15, 2009

Senate Race Assessment...

With the issue of temporary succession dispensed with, eyes have turned to the candidates who would fill out the remainder of Senator Edward Kennedy's term. Senator Kirk, whom Gov. Deval Patrick named pending January's special election, said from the beginning that he would not be a candidate.

As this race is the first exercise of the commonwealth's dubious revision of US Senate succession, it has changed the tone and obviously the length of the race. Additionally, it is taking place on a odd year, which otherwise does not happen for Senate elections. As it is an odd year, and the year after a presidential election, high profile mayoral races in Boston, Springfield, and elsewhere are vying for visibility and coverage.

Normally, a Senate race in Massachusetts would take shape over at least a year's time. Candidates would be announcing between now and February. By March, we would have a rough idea who is running for what party's nomination. Fundraising, signature gathering, etc would be going on until the signatures are certified and ballots could be printed. It would make for a much longer primary campaign ending in September. By comparison, the general election for this year's Senate campaign will be the same stretch of time as a normal Senate election would be: approximately six weeks.

Because of this truncated timeline, it seems that only the strongest and most-well
financed candidates could make a stab at the race. High profile names like Attorney General Martha Coakley and Boston/Cambridge US Congressman Mike Capuano possess the renown. Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics has money, while Alan Khazei has goodwill. Khazei co-founded CityYear, an AmeriCorps organization. On the Republican side are Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and Canton Selectman Bob Burr. A host of other people are still being bounced around as GOP nominees, but with less than a month before the filing date more candidates are unlikely.

According to a Suffolk University's poll posted to Wikipedia, Martha Coakley blasts her other opponents for the Democratic Primary out of the water. Mike Capuano has carped in news articles and elsewhere that he is more liberal and therefore the rightful heir to Kennedy's seat. Although this no
doubt plays well in Cambridge and some of Boston's most liberal neighborhoods, it may not score him many points outside of his district. Kennedy was one of the most liberal members of the Senate, but he knew the art of the deal and recognized that ideology alone served neither his Constituents nor those Americans most in need. While it is not a foregone conclusion, Coakley, who has already proven she can win statewide, is the favorite for the Democratic nomination. Much can happen between now and December 8, the primary date. As for Khazei and Pagliuca, they simply lack the name recognition. If Coakley were not a candidate, Capuano would be the favorite, but Pagliuca's money could buy a lot of ad time and publicity to boost his chances.

As for the Republicans, unless Scott Brown has Moby Dick-sized skelatons in his closet, or some other headlining Republican joins the race, he WILL be the GOP nominee. A Canton selectman does not compare to one of the Five Republican left in the Massachusetts Senate. Brown's name often comes up when the GOP voices its opposition over something the Democrats in the Senate are doing.

Assuming it would Coakley and Brown, which WMassP&I is,
Coakley is the probable winner. However, it might be closer than one might expect. First of all, the off-year, off-November election date will depress turnout. Inclement weather, even more likely in January than November, could make it worse. How that will affect either candidate is thus far unknown. The Democratic operation might crank out voters even in the midst of a Nor'easter.

However, anger in the Bay State is focused on Democrats. Brown can channel that anger into more votes than usual. Moreover, he does not need to surrender his House seat in order to run for the Senate (nor does Coakley need to surrender the Attorney General's office). He can be more candid, having less to lose, but he should moderate himself. Moderation will boost his appeal among independents while keeping Democrats off his back next November, who no doubt are fuming that he would even commit the offense of challenging their supremacy!

At the same time Coakley is more or less disconnected from the scandals, inertia, and bad policy spewing from Beacon Hill. All but the simplest voters will throw Coakley onto the same heap as the legislature and governor simply for being a Democrat. If anything, her status as Attorney General, which is essentially seen by most as vanguard of the people anyway, will allow her to rise above the muck.

No matter which of the two wins, it will probably not help Democrats on Beacon Hill in 2010. A Brown win would bring in money and energy for the state GOP party, while deflating both State and National Democratic parties. A Coakley win, will not have the same effect for Democrats. They will have achieved more or less the Status Quo Ante in the US Senate and Coakley will have just as big shoes to fill as Kennedy's effective successor. Additionally, Coakley will be near the bottom of the barrel on seniority. The Republicans on the state level, will be galvanized by the race even if Brown loses. An early fight to energize voters and more importantly get donors and names for next year's Beacon Hill races will be a boon. However, their campaigns next year must be more moderate than some of what Brown has proposed in

As far as WMassP&I is concerned, the platforms of the Democratic primary candidates is not fleshed out enough to really find any difference between the bunch. Certainly, as a blog interest in progress, we are nonplussed by Capuano's self-proclaimed liberalism. Liberalism when muttered, especially in Massachusetts, can be its own form of conservatism. Unwilling to look past the old liberal ideas that have failed and remain in bed with special interests whose goals are not necessarily in tune with the needs of the people could be derided as "liberal" today. However, such behavior is not, in an advancing, growing, and changing society our idea of progressive. We are not accusing Capuano of anything. We simply do not believe auto-labeling proves anything or is enough of a test for worthiness.

As for the General Election WMassP&I reserves judgment. We prefer Democrats in the Senate over Republican and hold more leftward beliefs than not. Brown is a little too conservative for us on some issues. As such we find Democrats, despite the lost faith of some since last year's election, are the better choice to move the country forward at this time.

However, we make no secret of our frustration with one-party super-majoritarian rule on Beacon Hill. Many, but not all, Democrats on Beacon Hill have grown fatter and more disconnected from their constituents than even some of their counterparts in Washington. A Coakley win would officially secure the filibuster-proof majority Democrats in Washington might need to pass important legislation. Sixty votes is not the margin that has stifled legitimate and public debate in Boston. However, one-party rule is chilling nonetheless. Requiring the votes of GOP moderates like the Senators from Maine and others is good for Democracy, the process, and for America as a whole.

For now, we must let the race unfold and see who says what, who means what, and whether they can deliver on their word. Perhaps another neglected factor is who is running for late Kennedys' old seat to establish their own legacy and who is running to claim some right to or latch onto the legacy of Ted Kennedy itself. All of the candidates could be motivated by either.

*Coakley, Capuano and Brown photos from candidates' respective Facebook pages.

No comments: