The question Massachusetts Republicans are asking themselves today isn’t “How did Scott Brown do in last night’s debate?” but rather, “Is there anything Scott can do that will make a difference?”
The two debates thus far — and there are two more coming — are widely seen as washes. No big winners or losers.
The polls, on the other hand, have been moving in Warren’s direction. She’s got a small — two to five point — but consistent lead. And when you look at the crosstabs, the polls are even worse.
The latest Boston Globe poll, for example, finds that Senator Brown has a high favorability rating, beats Professor Warren 2–1 as the most “likeable” candidate, and is seen as an independent, bipartisan representative of Massachusetts.
And he’s losing. Why? Because he’s not a Democrat. And in Massachusetts in 2012, that may be all that matters.
People outside Massachusetts tend to forget just how partisan this state is. Until Scott Brown’s special-election win in 2010, there hadn’t been a Republican at the federal level in Massachusetts since 1996.
In 2010, as the tea-party-powered GOP tide swept the U.S., not a single statewide Democrat lost an election — not even the Democrat running for auditor who had been caught cheating on her taxes weeks before the election.
These facts fly in the face of the myth treasured by the Massachusetts political media that Bay State voters “are actually very independent.” In truth, they are overwhelmingly Democrats who only twice since 2000 have elected a Republican to any state or federal office — and one of those Republicans is about to lose his home state in a presidential race by the biggest margin in history.
Elizabeth Warren understands that, which is why she kept repeating the “marching in lockstep with Republicans” line last night. She wants a purely partisan battle in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3–1.
Senator Brown understands it, too. That’s one reason he keeps talking about the Native American issue and Warren’s corporate clients — he wants voters focused on the candidates as people, not their party affiliation.
But when you’re outnumbered this badly, personality alone isn’t enough. Which is why Senator Brown is making an affirmative argument for electing an “independent voice,” as he puts it, “who can reach across the aisle and get things done.”
Which is why the best moment of the debate for Senator Brown was when Warren was asked to name a Republican senator she could work with. “Richard Lugar,” she replied — an unfortunate choice given that he lost his primary election earlier this year and won’t be in the Senate if she gets there. Worse, she couldn’t name another Republican.
Scott Brown immediately seized upon the moment, making the case that if you want Washington to work, if you want bipartisan action, then sending another hard-core partisan like Warren to Washington is a mistake.
Which brings us back to the main question of this election: Do Massachusetts Democrats really want “good-government bipartisanship?” Or would they rather just elect a fellow Democrat and call it a day?
— Michael Graham is a Boston-area talk-show host.