Massachusetts

Brown_Victory_011910 On Saturday, my folks came by to watch Jonah's basketball game. (Two baskets for the boy of the flailing limbs. woot. woot.) They brought along my nieces and then everyone came back to my house for pork. (Here's the recipe.) We're big fans of the pig around here.

At the end of dinner, the kids ran off to play with the wii, and dad and I got into our customary fight about politics. Two glasses of wine, and it all comes out.

The topic at hand that evening was the Massachusetts election. Dad said that the Brown win was all about Obama. The election results could be seen as a referendum on Obama's healthcare policy. The country is basically center-right and isn't ready for a national health care program, he said.

Steve hollered in from the other room that it was all about the individuals in the election. Coakley ran a bad election, while Brown did a good job. Steve then retreated to play the wii with the kids to avoid the conflict. Coward!

I said it was all about divided government. Americans can't stand to have Congress and president from the same party and always do their best to keep one party from dominating DC government.

Question of the Day: Referendum on Obama, individuals, or divided government?

30 thoughts on “Massachusetts

  1. In order of importance, from most important to least important, it would be divided government, referendum on Obama, individuals. (Although I suppose if Obama had operated in either a bipartisan fashion or a triangulating, plague on both your houses fashion he might possibly have persuaded Americans not to worry about Democratic domination, and in that sense it might be considered a referendum on him.)

  2. I don’t have a frickin’ clue and I live here. It was a baaaaad day on Tuesday.
    This says that the problem is that MA voters have caught up to the rest of the country in terms of stupidity and selfishness, but you know how polls are. They could be wrong.
    I think Coakley pissed people off. They just didn’t like her. Lord knows I didn’t love her and didn’t vote for her in the primary (I voted for Khazei). Could Mike Capuano or Alan Khazei have defeated Brown? Who knows. They probably would have fought harder.
    So, I guess I agree with Steve.

  3. I’ve read a couple places that Teddy Kennedy was extremely attentive with constitutuent service. Coakley didn’t exactly give off the aura of the sort of politician who would instantly fly into action to untangle your grandma’s social security difficulties. So that’s personal. But the reason she was so overconfident was because of the traditional Democratic lock on Mass., and that’s institutional. And then there’s the issue of unemployment, which was 9.4% in December. Coakley was probably at least in part being punished for the fact that Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan doesn’t appear to be working.
    Early in 2009 a lot of people here and elsewhere were saying stuff about how the Republican party was finished, reduced to a Southern rump, etc. That was not very prescient.

  4. Option 4: people are disgusted with government generally, and Brown was able to capitalize on that anger. Though all of the factors you list played a part in the MA results. I think it’s insiders vs outsiders (perceptions of, anyway), and that this is going to be a tough year for incumbents of both parties. Coakley was pretty lackluster, and Brown appears like a regular guy. The Democrats have more to lose because they have more seats at stake.
    As for Obama, the right thinks he’s going too far and the left think he’s not going far enough, so nobody is particularly happy, and that’s going to give Republican challengers an easier time in the midterm.

  5. I think the Massachusetts elections down to a complex of two factors. First, individuals. If Coakley and the Democratic machine which backed her hadn’t been perceived as update, arrogant tools who took Kennedy’s seat for granted, or if Scott Brown hadn’t been a charismatic, easy-talking, everyman goofball who could easily channel anti-Obama suspicion without seeming like a far-right wingnut, the election would have ended differently. It was an unappealing candidate/message vs. an appealing candidate/message. (It might seem like I’m throwing “referendum on Obama” in there, but I’m not. I’m sure that was the deciding factor for many thousands of voters, but not nearly enough, I think, to make a substantive difference. The polls show that plenty of pro-Obama voters supported Brown.)
    Second, Romneycare. If Massachusetts hadn’t enacted its own health care reform a few years ago, Scott Brown would have lost his single strongest argument in the race: that Massachusetts, having already committed itself to fixing it’s system, should not be asked to contribute to whatever national plan emerges from Congress. It’s clear that a significant portion of Brown supporters–enough to put him over the top–were moderate Democrats, supporters of health care reform. In a world in which Massachusetts didn’t have any reform, and Brown’s election would have put the Democrats’ national plans to the buzz-saw, I don’t think they would have supported him. But because of Mitt Romney, Massachusetts did have health care reform, which gave moderates the freedom to not worry too much about believing all that the Tea Partiers were saying about the bill. End of story.

  6. I’m generally Suze-ish. I wanted Coakley to lose because she was so vile on Gerald Amirault, but I have a rare level of vengefulness on that, it wasn’t a factor generally. When Reeps are in power, folks notice how much they hate the Reeps, when Dems are in power, how much they hate the Dems. Coakley was also the remnant of the Hillary campaign from Mass – she was a huge supporter, and lots of Hillary people were backing her, and that group has plummeted even further than Obama.

  7. Obviously Coakley was a terrible candidate. But in Massachussetts, in a normal year, anything with a pulse and a D next to its name wins in a walk. She probably wouldn’t have lost if she hadn’t been a lackluster campaigner, but she wouldn’t have lost if the public weren’t also pretty disgusted with the Democrats.

  8. I live in Massachusetts. It was a referendum on Obama. If it hadn’t already been a referendum on him by the weekend before the election, it was after his visit. He made it into a referendum on his plans, through his stump speeches for Coakley. I thought it was a stupid move of the president’s at the time, and so it has proven.
    Coakley should have won. The Democrats have a great party organization in Massachusetts. She did seem to have a gift for putting her foot in her mouth, but she was the Democratic candidate. She was the strongest of the Democratic candidates in the primary. She really stood out against the lightweight competition in the primary.
    The cost of living is exceedingly high in Massachusetts. The Democratic state assembly raised the sales tax from 5% to 6.25% this year. This has been very difficult for everyone, but especially for anyone working in retail near to the New Hampshire border, as NH doesn’t have a sales tax.
    The campaign was tone-deaf, but I think its tone-deafness signals real troubles for the Democrats in upcoming elections. Really, Martha Coakley’s “attack” ads were positives for the Brown side, as they could have come from his side. “Brown sides with the millionaires. Coakley will side with you against the millionaires.” News flash: if you own property in a passable school district in MA, you’re well on your way to being a millionaire. “Brown sides with business.” Here’s a feature of Massachusetts life: 9% unemployment. If you’re anti- business, how do you intend to employ people? “Martha’s for the health plan.” Anyone running a small business, such as a plumber, or contractor, will feel as if they’ll be driven out of business by the taxes necessary for the federal plan.
    And…the truck. I could not believe that Coakley & Obama fell for the truck. It shows that they are really out of touch with the middle class. Half of the office workers in this state wish they could have a pickup truck. Many of the middle & upper class voters have relatives who are working class, or grew up in a working class household. In general, successful Massachusetts politicians do not aspire to give off the aura of the urban metrosexual. They all try to be the good old boy (or girl) from Southie. Poking fun at someone’s truck is…clueless.
    Lastly, Brown carried the suburbs around Boston. The New York Times had a great map of the election results. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/01/19/us/politics/massachusetts-election-map.html In broad strokes, Coakley won the trust funders, the limousine liberals, the Democratic party’s hard core, and those who benefit from state services. Brown won the suburban middle class. If you pull up a map of population density in Massachusetts, it looks to me as if Coakley won the most densely populated areas of the state, and the least densely populated areas. Brown won the middle.

  9. But in Massachussetts, in a normal year, anything with a pulse and a D next to its name wins in a walk.
    If this were so we’d never have had to hear about Mitt Romney, Jane Swift, Paul Cellucci, or William Weld. I don’t have a good idea why Brown won- I’m sure there were lots of reasons, many of them inconsistent with each other and incoherent in themselves. This is so of many elections. But the idea that Mass. is somewhere where Republicans just can’t win state-wide office is obviously wrong, given even recent history, and invoking it shows one is making things up.

  10. Another Mass resident here. Agree wholeheartedly with stranger – an Obama referendum.
    Matt – Megan’s point is valid and citing our three recent elected govs (Swift was acting gov and never elected) proves the exception not the rule. Have had a generally all Dem congressional delegation for most of recent past. And don’t forget that Brown was, essentially, a nobody in terms of statewide recognition when the race began.

  11. Mike- a series of three governors in a row seems more like a rule than an exception. (I know Swift was acting, but wasn’t sure if that’s because she was elected Lt. Gov, as in some states, in which case she’d be an example, too, or if there’s a different Rule in MA.) The Senate situation surely has a lot to do with incumbency. But the governor situation shows that the claim that a Republican can’t win in a “normal” situation in a state-wide election in MA is just clearly wrong. Obviously they can, and could before this election as well.

  12. Well, the Republican governors should be seen as the electorate choosing someone mature enough to say “no” when necessary. Dukakis was the last Democratic governor, until Patrick.
    Patrick’s campaign for Governor was an eerie foreshadowing of Obama’s run. As I recall, his slogan was, “Together We Can.” (To which mean-spirited critics, such as I, would ask “what? Together we can what?”) This experiment in all-Democratic governance has not gone well, especially given that our governor had no executive experience when elected.

  13. Between their respective primaries and the general election, Coakley had 19 events, while Brown had 66. Brown put 200,000 miles on his truck; Coakley went on vacation. To this Yellow Dog Democrat, it looks like the Rs won the election the old-fashioned way: They earned it.

  14. If I could go back a bit, I’m looking at RAF’s second paragraph. I’ve read similar arguments and they’ve never struck me as convincing. Voters are disproportionately well-off and over 65, two groups that very likely had secure health coverage before any reforms. So, and this is just an educated guess based on who usually votes, I don’t think you’d get enough people who shifted to Brown because the MA plan took care of their personal health care needs. But, if the MA voters were worried about health care for altruistic reasons or concerns about U.S. economic competitiveness or other general factors, then MA having a plan shouldn’t have affected their views on a national health care plan.
    To the extent that health care played a role, I see it more as likely that MA voters could say, “We have a state health plan. It isn’t this complicated or expensive. What is Congress doing?” But that is an actual policy difference and one that is as well articulated as any you will find in any but the 5% of the population that is most informed.

  15. “But in Massachussetts, in a normal year, anything with a pulse and a D next to its name wins in a walk.”
    Yeah, I don’t know about that. Kennedy had a lock on that seat not because he was a liberal Dem, but because he was a Kennedy. All those Irish Catholics in MA are extremely loyal to the person, but ideologically aren’t that liberal. MA has the reputation for being a liberal state, but I’m not sure that’s true. 53% of Southies voted for Reagan in 1980. (Maybe I’ve watched Good Will Hunting too many times.)
    So even if the voters voted for Brown, because they didn’t like the Obama agenda, it may not be such an “OMG.”

  16. MA resident, political scientist who studies state politics. A couple of points. 1) There’s not a lot of evidence that people are intentional in voting for divided government. There’s been debate about this in the literature, but I think the preponderance of evidence doesn’t support that claim. 2) My husband, who is also a political scientist, says there was a good poll by Harvard and someone else that really got at the reasons why people voted the way they did and the bottom line was that they didn’t like the PROCESS of health care – too many back room deals with unions, insurance companies, senators from states that start with NE, etc. Ironically, this is how Congress works, so I guess the old adage about sausages and legislation is still true.

  17. Doug, about Coakley’s vacation. I’ve heard others complain about that. Interestingly, those who have complained in my hearing–admittedly a small sample–were all men. I believe the “vacation” was over the Christmas/New Year’s period. That’s a time when some people would have complained had she campaigned too vigorously. Some have complained in print that she started her campaign before Ted Kennedy died.
    I suspect that she may have had some “work done,” or at least a makeover, during that “vacation.” If you look at pictures of her around the time of the primary, and then during the 6-week election, her appearance changed radically. I find her appearance before the primary to be more appealing, more “real person.” Her bone structure is fine, and by now, everyone knows what to expect in a professional woman of her age. During the end of the campaign, she was too well-groomed. She’s an AG, not a “lady who lunches.”
    Everyone’s blaming her as a “bad candidate,” but I rather think that her advisors really blew it. Her managers and campaign advisors displayed a great deal of bad judgement. I would be interested to know how many of them were women.

  18. I agree with stranger on the truck part of things. We keep a very old Jeep largely because the newer Jeeps are too comfortable and not enough truck-like. (I suppose we keep also keep it because it is now very cheap to do so, but that wouldn’t be sufficient. We dumped the Neon, which was even cheaper, as soon as we had the money.)

  19. I’m from one of those Boston Irish Catholic families, and my experience is that a) many Irish Catholics are very sick of the Kennedys and b) it still takes a pretty heroic effort to get them to vote for a Republican–to the extent that I’m not aware of any relatives who have actually done it. So I’m a little skeptical of this interpretation.

  20. In Boston there are still Catholic parochial schools. Out here in the educated ‘burbs, I think there are two, in different directions. It’s at least a 40 minute trip to any Catholic school. People move here from out of state, consider attending a parochial school, but it’s around 2%-3%, on average. I’m not certain how many Boston Irish leave the city.
    How will the children vote? I don’t know. Growing up in the suburbs is significantly different than growing up in the city, though. Our small town has a large Catholic population, but they’re tied to the public schools and the secular culture. They don’t self-identify as “Irish Catholic”, or “Italian Catholic.” They’re also more self-confident about cultural choices than the “Irish Catholic” families I grew up with.
    Maybe it’s a question of generations. The older generation was likely to have immigrated from Ireland/Europe. Party loyalty is a different concept on the other side of the Atlantic. Maybe the younger generations are more American in their political identity, more likely to vote, hmm, “cafeteria style”? They’ll vote for the candidates and policies they like? We have an enormous population of “unenrolled” voters, and through the miracle of the secret ballot, who’s to know if you and your grandmother voted for the same candidate?
    Also, the priest scandals did a great deal of damage upon the relationship some Catholics had with their church.

  21. I don’t think you’d get enough people who shifted to Brown because the MA plan took care of their personal health care needs. But, if the MA voters were worried about health care for altruistic reasons or concerns about U.S. economic competitiveness or other general factors, then MA having a plan shouldn’t have affected their views on a national health care plan. To the extent that health care played a role, I see it more as likely that MA voters could say, “We have a state health plan. It isn’t this complicated or expensive. What is Congress doing?”
    MH, I think you’re not disagreeing with me, just restating my same point from a different angle. My claim is not that I think enough moderate Democrats and independents were so proud of and/or defensive of Massachusetts’ health care reform that they wanted to protect it from whatever happened nationally; most of those same voters, according to polls, want something to happen nationally. Rather, it’s that I think Brown, thanks to Massachusetts’ reforms, was able to protect himself against the best argument to motivate those same voters (most of whom supported Obama) to the polls and to close their ears to vague concerns they have about the bills in Congress. I’m convinced that Scott Brown had truly been a Tea Partier, if he’d spoken out against RomneyCare, then he wouldn’t have been elected. The simple fact of supporting RomneyCare (and Brown’s ability to self-interestedly contrast it with the confusing messages about national reform coming from DC), and not necessarily the particular views which swing voters in Massachusetts had of it, is what I’m focusing on.
    I actually put the individual candidates themselves foremost as an explanation: someone, somewhere, whether Coakley herself or her staff or both, was very lazy and irresponsible in their work to craft a message and present her as a person to the voters of Massachusetts. Brown and his people weren’t. The fact that Brown had a great way to inoculate himself against the attacks aimed at persuading and motivating less-than-committed liberals and moderate Democrats was an important tool, but if he himself had been a Neanderthal, it wouldn’t have mattered.

  22. RAF, I guess I was focusing on the should not be asked to contribute to whatever national plan emerges from Congress in your first comment.

  23. I think it would be a mistake to decide Brown won because, “well, Massachusetts already has health care.” Brown did campaign, explicitly, as the “41st vote,” and Obama and Coakley did present Coakley as the senator who would “defend Teddy’s dream.” The concern is about the level of public indebtedness. I think the message, “I’m going to Washington to fight for you, (the little people)” just didn’t resonate with people who believe they’ll be the ones footing the bill.

  24. Technically speaking, a national poll doesn’t say what MA voters were thinking. Nor does the poll, from what I can tell, really separate Brown as a senator with certain views from Brown as a senator who is number 41. That said, I want divided government. Or unified government under a party that does not yet exist.

  25. Jane Swift? A lightweight disaster. Truly embarrassing. She should have had the good sense not to join Cellucci’s ticket. She was too young, and not experienced enough, to wield executive authority, as the various scandals which erupted around her showed.
    Kerry Healey? Very smart lady, and capable of decisive action. She probably would have been able to handle the office of governor, but she never connected with the voters. Howie Carr did her in when he dubbed her, “Muffy,” as that crystallized the lurking bias Massachusetts voters have against the wealthy.
    It’s hard to run for office as a woman. Many women who have extremely successful careers do not have children. Voters seem to prefer their representatives to have children. Scott Brown’s family was an enormous advantage for him. The daughters are old enough to participate fully. I had to Google Martha Coakley, after weeks of political ads, to discover that she was 1) married, and 2) had dogs, not children.
    Only 17 Senators currently in office are female. To have elected a woman to the Senate would have been exceptional. Does anyone know how many senators are childless? My gut tells me very, very few.

  26. All the studies I have seen show that women candidates generally fair better than male ones, but that they are (a) recruited less often, and (b) there are fewer to recruit in lower offices. But, overall, a generally qualified woman who is actually running (like Coakley) will generally overperform.
    This race is completely overdetermined. Everyone has their own pet theory on why Coakley lost, and I think you’d have to get pretty far down the list to find anti-female bias.

  27. I might have to come back to read the comments later. MA (my “original” state in this country, I lived 8 years and had my sons there) raised taxes? 6.5 %? Yikes!!
    I think I’d go with individual, but I think that Russell has as good point and stranger’s first comment too. Gotta come back for the rest at some other time.

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