In Monday night’s senatorial debate in Massachusetts, David Gergen, the moderator, looked straight at Scott Brown, the Republican nominee, and asked him this question:
GERGEN: You said you’re for health-care reform, just not this bill. We know from the Clinton experience that if this bill fails, it could well be another 15 years before we see health-care reform efforts in Washington. Are you willing under those circumstances to say, I’m going to be the person, I’m going to sit in Teddy Kennedy’s seat and I’m going to be the person who’s going to block it for another 15 years?
Brown, in what I call his ‘Nashua moment,’ responded with what’s become the remark that’s defining this race:
BROWN: Well, with all due respect, it’s not the Kennedys’ seat, and it’s not the Democrats’ seat, it’s the people’s seat. And they have the chance to send somebody down there who is an independent voter, and an independent thinker, and going to look out for the best interests of the people of Massachusetts. And the way that this bill is configured, I’d like to send it back to the drawing board because I believe people should have insurance — [just not] this particular bill because it’s not good for the entire country.
In a conversation with National Review Online today, Gergen, a noted White House adviser to four presidents and professor of public service at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, admitted, with good humor, that Brown smoked him with his sharp retort. “He stuffed me on that,” said Gergen. “Scott Brown gave a very good impression of who he was and what he stood for. He was fast on his feet.”
Gergen added that the importance of the Kennedy legacy in this race is quickly fading. “While he remains a beloved figure, especially to Massachusetts Democrats, he’s certainly not at the center of the dynamics shaping this race. This campaign has become much more of a referendum on Washington . . . That’s the real issue here. The trend lines in Washington on issues such as health care could be souring the moods not only of conservatives, moderate Republicans, and right-leaning independents, but spreading into the views of both left-leaning independents and Democrats themselves.”
Still, Gergen said that Democrat Martha Coakley “has to be considered the frontrunner at this point.” While Brown was strong during last night’s debate, Gergen said that Coakley came across “as more accessible as a person.” Plus, he believes that many Massachusetts Democrats, though unhappy with Coakley and Washington, will ultimately decide to vote for her over Brown next week because “they want to show their frustration, but they aren’t willing or ready, yet, to send a Republican to the Senate.” Gergen also noted that he’s still “as puzzled by the polls as everyone else, and just as fascinated by how this race is playing out.”