Talk about a Massachusetts Miracle.
On Tuesday, Rasmussen released a poll showing Republican state senator Scott Brown within 9 points of Democratic attorney general Martha Coakley in the race to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. Among voters most committed to turning out, Coakley’s lead is a slim 2 percent. To put that in perspective, the last time a Republican won a U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, he was riding Nixon’s coattails in 1972.
Then on Wednesday, news hit that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker had broken fundraising records in 2009. He has ten times as much money in the bank as incumbent governor Deval Patrick, despite a Boston fundraiser by President Obama.
The national media are beginning to focus on what a Scott Brown upset victory on January 19 would mean to Obamacare, but Republicans and conservatives in Massachusetts are focusing more on what it means at the local level: The Massachusetts Republican party, which looked all but extinct just months ago, could be roaring back to life.
I moved from Washington, D.C., to Boston in late 2005. Throughout the subsequent years, Massachusetts has been a very depressing place to be a Republican voter. It’s one thing to lose elections. But since Mitt Romney left office, there hasn’t been a single Republican in federal or statewide office to even promote conservative ideals, much less fight for them. With the media almost entirely in the Democratic tank, citizens who opposed higher taxes and the expansion of government had no voice. They were leaderless and demoralized. Then, in 2008, it got even worse.
A group of libertarians got an initiative on the ballot to repeal the state’s 5.3 percent income tax. It didn’t just lose. Voters crushed it by a margin of 70 to 30 percent. As veteran anti-tax activist Barbara Anderson said at the time, “It would have been better if the liberals had kept the question off the ballot entirely.” The citizens had seemingly welcomed the era of big government and higher taxes.
And they got it. Governor Patrick, who had pledged not to raise tolls, raised them by $100 million a year. Patrick, who complained that sales taxes were “regressive,” raised them by about $1 billion a year, along with another $500 million in business and other taxes. Massachusetts Democrats even imposed a sales tax on the excise taxes paid on beer, wine, and liquor — a “tax” tax.
Then Governor Patrick’s popularity plunged. Polling shows that about six in ten Massachusetts voters disapprove of the job he is doing. Even his fellow Democrat Martha Coakley would only say that she thinks he’s done “the best that he can under those economic circumstances.” Ouch.
But despite the bad news, most political observers were betting Patrick would be re-elected. The assumption had been that the GOP brand in Massachusetts is too damaged, the organization too weak to beat the Democratic establishment. But the convergence of the health-care issue and the Brown-Coakley race has changed that. The tea-party movement has been moderately active in Massachusetts since last spring, but the health-care-reform debate really powered up the opposition. The likely reason? Massachusetts has the beta version of Obamacare right now, and our insurance premiums are soaring. Some small businesses saw single-year premium increases of nearly 40 percent. At the same time, the cost to taxpayers of “Commonwealth Care” has jumped to around $700 million — about $500 million more than first advertised.
Higher taxes from Governor Patrick, and promises of more from Barack Obama. An expensive, job-killing health-care “reform,” and Democrats in Washington promising to take it national. It added up to a viable opposition movement in Massachusetts, but one that had no leader, no candidate around whom to organize.
The special election has provided that candidate. Scott Brown’s campaign is giving both longtime GOP activists and first-time big-government opponents a cause to fight for. Lists are growing, e-mails are being gathered, voters are energized and focused. Charlie Baker is joined by other, high-quality GOP candidates for statewide office, including former Turnpike Authority watchdog Mary Connaughton. Better still, viable candidates are stepping forward to challenge incumbent legislators. (Democrats control about 90 percent of state house seats.)
Barbara Anderson’s group, Citizens for Limited Taxation, identified only two candidates for support at this point in the 2008 election cycle. In the current cycle, they’re already up to 15, and more potential candidates are stepping forward almost daily.
Charlie Baker, the likely Republican nominee for governor (he faces a primary challenge from businessman Christy Mihos), will run a professional, well-funded campaign. There could be 50 or more viable local candidates pushing anti-incumbent turnout with him. Now, thanks to the Scott Brown candidacy, all of these candidates will benefit from a pool of energized and organized voters.
To borrow a phrase from President Obama, a Scott Brown victory would be “unprecedented.” Actually, given the numbers in Massachusetts, it may be impossible. But Brown is wisely turning the race into a referendum on current events in Washington, openly declaring himself the “41st vote against the health-care bill.” This allows Brown, a relative moderate himself, to tap into the energy of the tea-party movement, and it also gives his supporters an even higher motivation to turn out.
It doesn’t hurt that Democrats like Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan are already dropping out of races across the U.S. If Democrats are running scared today, what happens if Scott Brown comes within a few points of beating an establishment Democrat like Coakley in a deep-blue state like Massachusetts?
Win or lose, the Brown campaign today could be the vital first step toward a sweeping GOP victory in November.
— Michael Graham is an NRO contributor.