Saturday, December 1, 2012

Who's Afraid Of Scott Brown?

The working theory of many in Washington is that Republican criticism at U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has less to do with what she said on Sunday talk shows and much more to do with raw politics. To wit, the thinking goes that if the President can be bullied out of appointing Ms. Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, his other option is Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Appoint Kerry, the thinking goes, and the special election that Massachusetts law requires be called no less than 145 days, but no more than 160 days, subsequent to a vacancy, is tailor made for former Senator Scott Brown to swoop in and take his seat. 

While there is some logic to this theory, I think it misses the mark for several reasons.

First, Democrats have super majorities in both houses of the Massachusetts General Court (the term used for their Legislature) and can simply change the law so that the Governor appoints a replacement to serve out the remainder of the term. In Kerry's case, that would be until 2014. 

Second, assuming the Legislature and Governor Patrick choose not to change the law, Patrick can appoint someone (perhaps even himself) who will also run in the special election. In 2010, when Senator Kennedy passed away, Governor Patrick appointed Paul Kirk, a caretaker who never intended to run for the seat, resulting in a primary fight among Democrats that accrued to Brown's favor as he was unopposed for the Republican nomination. 

Third, Brown's victory in 2010 was not that impressive. People forget that Brown's victory was, in many ways a "perfect storm" of factors that sealed his win. President Obama's popularity was at a nadir as Congress was still trying to pass health care reform (Brown famously said he needed to be elected as the 41st vote against the Affordable Care Act), his opponent, state Attorney General Martha Coakley was widely ridiculed as an indifferent and mediocre campaigner who was slow to course correct when polling started shifting in Brown's favor and Brown was a neophyte to the national stage with no record in Congress (he was a State Senator, albeit one of modest acclaim). 

Each of those factors alone may not have gotten Brown over the finish line, but the intensity of anger toward the President, Coakley's poor performance on the stump and Brown's "every man" persona combined to help him claim victory. But what about that victory? Even with the wind as strongly at his back as possible, he "only" won by 5 points. Hardly a landslide.

Fourth, Brown just lost his bid for re-election. Whereas Brown was able to take advantage of his low profile in 2010, two years later, he was a Senator with a record to defend and an opponent who was well financed and capable. The result? He lost by 7 points. And while he added about 300,000 votes to his total from 2010, his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren, tallied 600,000+ votes more than Attorney General Coakley. While some of that might owe to the fact that the President was on the ballot, Warren effectively framed the race nationally - a vote for Brown was a vote for the obstructionist tactics of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Brown also voted against the appointment of Elena Kagan (a former Dean of Harvard Law) to the Supreme Court and was one of the Senate's biggest recipients of campaign donations from investment firms and financial institutions. In other words, Scott Brown was suddenly not a guy in a pick up truck who posed for "beefcake" photos in his 20s, he was a man with a record, running a deeply negative, and at times, highly personal campaign for re-election. 

If Kerry were appointed Secretary of State, Brown's record would still be entirely relevant to the citizens of Massachusetts. Moreover, unlike 2010, when Obama's "brand" was radioactive, he was just overwhelmingly re-elected and has strong job and personal approval ratings. The raison d'ĂȘtre that launched Brown to the Senate in 2010 is simply not there anymore; further, having been in the Senate, voters now know how he would conduct himself in office. Indeed, given the chance to re-elect him 5 weeks ago, they said no thank you. 

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, if Democrats in MASSACHUSETTS are incapable of fielding a candidate for the Senate who is capable of running a statewide campaign that argues for principles voters in that state overwhelmingly support (Obama beat Romney 61-38, Patrick is a 2-term Governor and the incoming Legislature will have a 131/29 D/R split in the House and a 36/4 D/R split in the Senate) they don't deserve to hold the seat. If President Obama decides that Senator Kerry is the best man for the job as either Secretary of State or Defense, Democrats should not fear "Senator Centerfold." 


  1. Yet another great article by you!

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