On Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010, the impossible happened. A little-known Republican State Senator, Scott Brown, won the special election for the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts.
Why so impossible? Registered Democrats have a 3-1 majority over Republicans in the Commonwealth. No Republican has won a Senate seat in 40 years. Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, had considerably more money, name recognition and popularity at the start of the campaign. She also had a 30-point lead in the polls. And well, it Massachusetts, a state that has same sex marriages, decriminalized marijuana by public referendum and produced some of the most famous and well known Democrats in history.
Most pundits blame the Coakley campaign, and the Coakley campaign blames the White House and Democratic National Committee (DNC), and the White House and DNC blame “lockstep republicans.”
Now don’t get me wrong, Coakley ran an awful campaign. We saw a similar 30-point lead blown in the 2008 Democratic primaries by Hillary Clinton in much the same way, but even Clinton won Massachusetts. Having spent my first 18 years in Massachusetts, I can tell you that Coakley’s poor campaign simply was not enough to lose her that election.
Two factors lost this campaign for Coakley. First, the economy. People are out of work and they are taking their frustrations out on the party in charge. The economy may well have decided this campaign.
Along with the economy, the Massachusetts Democratic party is not exactly in good stead with voters. Two recent Speakers of the House have been brought up on corruption charges. The legislature has done some truly outrageous things like raise the sales tax and give local municipalities the ability to add a 2 percent local option to the sales tax. Perhaps most importantly, Governor Deval Patrick’s approval ratings are in the 20s, making him roughly as popular as President Bush was for much of his second term.
The point is that while Coakley ran a horrible campaign, there were other factors that played a larger role. For states like Maryland, making the mistake of blowing off the Massachusetts election as nothing more then a poor campaign may well cost Democrats more seats than expected in November.
Maryland Democrats might not have the recent track record as their counterparts in Massachusetts but the looming $2 billion budget deficit might have a similar effect if they do not handle it well. Although perhaps more important than that will be the unemployment rate in the next 10 months.
The potential run of Former Republican Governor Ehrlich against Governor O’Malley would be a serious challenge in any year, but pile on a poor economy and a struggling state budget, and Ehrlich would appear to have an early advantage. The down ticket assembly and state senate races is where the real upsets will be, but it is too early to know who is running.
For Congressional Races, Rep. Kravolti in the 1st district narrowly gained his seat in 2008 and looks like he will be targeted by the Republican National Congressional Committee in 2010. Still, for the most part, Maryland looks like its Congressional seats will stay solidly blue.
Then again, everyone said the same thing about Massachusetts.