Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Our 100th: Warren and Peace...

Sen. Gillett (Wikipedia)
The last Senator for Massachusetts from Western Mass (the four westernmost counties if you think Worcester is Western) was Frederick Gillett.  Prior to serving one term in the US Senate, Gillett represented the 2nd Massachusetts Congressional district, the same that Richard Neal represents now.  Gillett would also serve as Speaker of the House from 1919-1925.  Like Neal, Gillett was from Springfield.

This bit of historical trivia is not directly tied to the questions among Democrats in their quest to unseat Scott Brown in 2012.  It does, however speak to some of the challenges that will face the nominee whoever, he or she is.  Western Mass went hard for Brown, save the cities, but then swung back hard for Gov. Deval Patrick last year.  It seems that while Western Mass has lagged the rest of Massachusetts in terms of growth, it often becomes the margin of victory for statewide campaigns with a possible assist from the Cape & Islands.  For the moment, Democrats' problems do include geography, but not east and west.  Rather there problems lies between here and Washington.

Sen. Murray (Wikipedia)
The Boston Globe , perhaps overplaying the discord a bit, did highlight the chasm between the national Democratic party and the State Party this past Saturday.  Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is tasked with defending the Democrats' 23 seats up in 2012 and possibly grabbing one or two from the Republicans' 10 seats up next year.  She said earlier this week that a strong challenger would be coming forward "within weeks."  The Globe reported that this has rankled the declared candidates notably Alan Khazei, a philanthropist and Bob Massie, a former Lietenant Gubernatorial candidate.  Setti Warren, Mayor of Newton, notably, had no comment.

In some ways the implications of a better candidate is insulting and could, as some in the story suggested, hurt fund-raising in the future if one of the declared candidates does become the nominee.  Some also suggested that it was wrong for the national party to dictate terms as to who should become the nominee.  

On the ground in Massachusetts, some Democrats seem to agree with Gov. Patrick's call for an organic process.  However, the reality is that the field is weak, perhaps as the New York Times noted in a misleadingly titled story, because Ted Kennedy outshone any efforts to build up a bench for Democrats in Massachusetts.

Ex. State Sen. Rossi (Seattle Weekly)
While Sen. Murray could be a bit more tactful in her language, her fear and her desire for a stronger candidate may come about due to her own experiences.  Although on the winning side, Murray witnessed what happens when candidate rise with a track record of failure and the party on the outs lacks a bench.  Dino Rossi an ex-legislator in Washington state, challenged Murray in last year's Senate election, but lost.  Rossi had earlier run for governor in 2004, lost (after an acrimonious recount) and then went for a rematch against incumbent Christine Gregoire only to lose amongst the Obama wave by a larger margin.  Why did Republicans pick him to run?  They had nobody else.  Republicans seem doomed to repeat this in 2012 against Murray's fellow Washingtonian, Senator Maria Cantwell.

While Rossi was hardly an "organic candidate," he was well-known in Washington State's Republican circles.  His candidacy may be instructive for both supporters of an organic nominees and those who want somebody with star power (it may  be a stretch to say Rossi had star power or was organic, however).  Essentially his candidacy exposed the Republicans for reaching "into the Pickle jar" to quote Rachel Maddow.  The organics should worry about an untested candidate lacking name recognition (like Setti Warren) or one with a track record of failure or no political experience...or name recognition. (like Massie, Khazei).  Remember, Brown's best non-monetary strength is name recognition.

Sen. Brown (Wikipedia)
While Scott Brown came from nowhere, his path cannot necessarily be replicated.  Brown's candidacy and term thus far, were/are an exercise in political manufacturing.  Once Coakley let her guard down, the Republican message machine led by Eric Ferhnstrom and others sensed their moment and swooped in.  A combination of out-of-state financing and well placed tropes about Brown's Everymanhood shot him from Wrenthem to Washington.  A Democratic candidate can become likewise known, but should not assume that mirroring Brown's path is possible or without its own perils.

Taking all of this in, risks and all, this leaves the field with three possibly four candidates, declared or otherwise, that can/could overcome the hurdles ahead.  Mayor Warren, Elizabeth Warren the Harvard professor struggling to set up the Consumer Finance Protection Agency against generic Republican tripe about liberty and Mike Capuano, the Congressman from Somerville Coakley defeated in 2009. Other Congressmen are possibilities, but they seem more remote than Capuano.

Mayor Warren (Candidate Flickr Page)
Assuming that the field does not change, the nomination seems most likely to go to Setti Warren.  Despite angering some in his hometown for running so soon into his term as mayor, Setti Warren's resume makes him a serious candidate.  He is serious enough that he may have been part of the inspiration for Brown to go to Afghanistan "do some missions."  While unknown statewide, he seems the most likely to actually catapult to statewide notoriety without any cosmetic assembly.  Even in defeat in a primary, he would be in prime position for a Senate appointment or race if John Kerry goes on to become Secretary of State in Obama II.

Mike Capuano may also be biding his time for a Kerry retirement.  Perhaps he may even persuade Deval Patrick to skip the organic part and just appoint him after a Kerry vacancy, knowing he will run for the seat in an election.  In 2012, the biggest strike against him, other than losing to Coakley is his close relationship with Nancy Pelosi (although he did call for new leadership in his caucus this year).  However, anti-Pelosism runs at much lower levels here than it does nationally.

Capuano could easily tap into union's grassroots networks.  Labor is likely to coalesce around somebody they think will win.  In the 2009 Democratic primary labor probably saw the Coakley machine as unstoppable and either stayed quiet or leaned toward her.  Capuano and his other liberal positions could probably gain the support of, if not outright excite, the commonwealth's other liberal groups from environmentalists to women's groups.

Cong. Capuano (wikipedia)
It seems likely that Capuano will only run this year, if at all, if Warren does not.  No, not Setti, but Elizabeth.  Elizabeth Warren lobbied hard and for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Presently Republicans are trying like hell to smother the CFPB before it draws breath as if it were the anti-Christ.  Indeed, the attacks on Elizabeth Warren are being read as signs of fear among Republicans and their moneyed backers.  Warren, a Harvard Law professor, has been working on the regulations since Dodd-Frank was passed and has had an ally in Harry Reid since she was his appointee on TARP's oversight board.

The confrontation between Republicans and Warren (and the White House) has escalated to the point where nearly all Senate Republicans including Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are demanding not only somebody other than Warren be appointed, but that the sole directorship be changed into a commission.  Often times, Congress will structure regulators as committees, essentially that require near impossible majorities to make a decision.  It also has the added benefit of rendering the agency inert when seats become vacant.  Consider the National Labor Relations Act as proof, which has only recently begun to function again. The argument that commissions survive political changeovers better can be defeated with examples like the Director of the FBI whose 10 year term cannot be terminated early by the president without just cause.

Elizabeth Warren (wikipedia)
The White House should take the Republicans' threat on the directorship itself with a grain of salt.  After all Collins and Snowe both voted for the Dodd-Frank bill along with Scott Brown.  If they had objection to the structure of the agency, they certainly could have withheld their vote last year and denied the agency existence completely.  Because Elizabeth Warren has not been officially named to run the CFPB, they cannot attack her nomination directly (although they attack her regularly).  Rather it is more expedient to just attack the directorship and hope the White House picks somebody other than Warren.  Then, their opposition may whither and with it the opposition of enough Republicans to sustain a filibuster of anybody to head the CFPB.

Notably, Brown did not sign that letter demanding a reorganization of CFPB leadership.  This suggests he is as afraid of Warren as Republicans writ large are.  He would probably rather see her name brought to the floor and then confirmed because it dispatches a potential rival, but also makes up for the rather embarrassing situation where he introduced Elena Kagan to the Judiciary Committee only to vote against her confirmation on the Senate floor.  As we have said, Scott Brown has a women problem, evidenced by the fact that the only women of note he can bring to a fundraiser is Sen. Kelly Ayotte, whose right-wing views, to be kind, simply do not mesh with that of most Bay State women.

Elizabeth Warren would be a potent challenge, on paper at least, because she could probably undercut the significance of Brown's most important bipartisan vote, the one for Dodd-Frank.  Her expertise on the subject could lead Brown in serious trouble as he attempts to explain his demands to weaken the bill last year.  Because of her consumer advocacy, Warren has attracted a considerable following in liberal circles in Massachusetts and moderates by and large support consumer protection, Republican efforts notwithstanding.  She may also attract sympathy after Republicans called her a liar to her face last week.  Still, she would be an untested candidate and an academic that has never run for office.  That said, Massachusetts has not shied away from sending academics to Congress.  Both John Olver and Richard Neal had substantial careers in academia before being elected to office.

Progressives, particularly the Progressive Change Campaign Committee have been pushing to get President Obama to nominate Warren anyway, despite the opposition.  Although the White House has not always seemed very willing to press confirmation fights like this, there is a very real possibility that no amount of pushing will make Warren the head of the CFPB.  A recess appointment is possible, perhaps inevitable. However if Warren is that appointee, it will give the Republicans plenty of ammunition to continue attacking the agency, perhaps to the detriment of its long-term effectiveness.

If Patty Murray was referring to Warren when she thought a candidate would be selected within weeks, then this is how the process could play out.  Obama nominates Warren to head the CFPB.  Republicans turn back her confirmation on a filibuster.  Days later, Warren officially withdraws and then makes an announcement she is in the Senate race.  It is hard to imagine any other candidate materializing "within weeks" except for Capuano or an incredibly unlikely Joe Kennedy, II.

At risk of permanently alienating Bob Massie, Warren Tolman, Alan Khazei, etc, it appears at this moment that Setti and Elizabeth Warren and Mike Capuano seem to be the most likely potential candidates able to beat Brown now.  The fact is that the cost and money necessary to run for Senate (or most offices) requires more than just that drive to beat the incumbent.  Brown not only had the right moment (even as that moment's glow appears to fade for some), but a Republican establishment eager to rebound from a disastrous 2008.  That meant money that could be drummed up the moment Coakley let her guard down (which incidentally happened the same week the Senate voted on health care).  Most of the Dems running for Senate right now will never have such a perfect confluence of events (and money) except maybe, MAYBE, a week or two out from November 2012.

Cong. Murphy of CT (candidate site)
Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Congressman facing an epic battle against Susan Bysiewicz for the Democratic nomination to succeed Joe Lieberman in 2012, explained that this was part of the reason that he was getting into the race so early.  He told Pro Se, the student newspaper at UCONN Law in Hartford, that the modern Senate campaign requires lots of money and not being independently wealthy, he needed to start the process now as a opposed to later.  Murphy will likely not only endure a tough primary fight, but if successful, he will likely face a well-financed Republican challenger.  By comparison, when Richard Blumenthal stepped in to succeed Chris Dodd in January of 2010, there was virtually no Democratic opposition and he could raise money quickly and effectively (even as his opponent spent more money per vote than any other candidate for office last year).

Fmr Dem Logo (Wikipedia)
These concerns along with a natural suspicion of the local Democratic party the national party may have after Brown's election may explain the relative lack of confidence the DSCC has in the candidates thus far.  Those concerns are real, but must be tempered by the fact that the current field is not all hat and no cattle.  Patty Murray has to be careful how she and others word it because these same local Democrats will be crucial to defeating Brown.  They effectively held the 2010 onslaught off in Massachusetts.  The local Dems need to recognize that the organic process is not in and of itself sacrosanct, especially against a challenger as well armed as Brown.  Both should seriously consider working to move the primary back a month or so.  Six weeks is hardly enough time for the electorate to vet the nominees, let alone heal intra-party wounds.  

So for now, let's give Patty a break and let her do her job even as she and the DSCC reaches out to all candidates, declared or otherwise.  Meanwhile the local party should work on establishing solid grassroots networks any candidate can step into rather than sniping at the national party.


Anonymous said...

Scott Brown did not win WMass "hard." He picked up the well-off, suburban towns surrounding Springfield, but lost bigtime in Berkshire, Hampshire, and Franklin Counties.

Matt S. said...

You are correct. I have checked the Globe's map for results and Brown did poorly in much of the 413. He did however, win several reliably blue cities like Chicopee and some increasingly left-leaning towns like Longmeadow, but the point is taken and this comment can be taken as a correction for that.