Friday, January 15, 2010

What's the Matter with Massachusetts?

What the hell is going on in Massachusetts? Megan McCardle called this a couple of weeks ago:
Last night's Rasmussen poll in Massachussetts found that Republican Scott Brown was only 9% behind the Democratic candidate in the race to replace Ted Kennedy, which will be done by special election later this month. For Massachussetts, replacing a Kennedy, that's a pretty remarkable number--and the one thing Rasmussen does relatively well at is predicting electoral results. The people who will definitely vote only went for Democrats by 2%. This with a candidate who has so far gotten little support from the national party.

Instpundit is inspiring readers to give to his online fundraising, and if I were the GOP, I'd be thinking about pouring some money into this race. Turning Kennedy's seat would pretty much kill health care reform, I imagine, and even making it a close race might send a message to nervous senators about how Massachussetts voters view its health care reform.

It's a very long shot--Massachussetts is, well, Massachussetts. But given the stakes, it's a gamble I'd certainly take if I were someone senior at the RNC.
Maybe not so much of a long shot. From the NYT:
In a last-ditch effort to avert a debacle for the Democrats, the White House announced that President Obama would campaign here on Sunday for Martha Coakley, the Democratic Senate candidate, amid growing signs that the race for Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat has become too close to call.

With a new Suffolk University/7 News poll showing the race in a virtual tie, the announcement is fraught with political peril for Mr. Obama — particularly if Ms. Coakley loses the seat to the Republican, State Senator Scott Brown. Nonetheless, the president’s advisers concluded that Mr. Obama’s fortunes were already tied to the outcome of the race, so there was no reason to keep him away from Massachusetts.

The special election for the seat is on Tuesday. Several polls in recent days indicated that Ms. Coakley was losing a lead, and the Suffolk poll showed Mr. Brown with 50 percent of the vote and Ms. Coakley with 46 percent, a result within the poll’s four percentage point margin of sampling error.
Oh boy. If Brown wins, it could be one of the greatest political upsets in recent history. Not only because a notoriously liberal state would elect a Republican (who's outspokenly against the health-care bill) to the Senate, but that Brown's election could mean certain peril for Obama's domestic policy. And it's Ted Kennedy's seat, for christ's sake!

The Dems are pulling out the big guns, not only Obama, but Bill Clinton, John Kerry (haha), and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Their desperation, in Massachusetts!, does not bode well for the Dems in November.

Addendum: Megan McCardle ponders what a Brown win would mean for the health-care bill:
I'm still not convinced that the chances of Scott Brown beating Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts special election are as high as 50%. I would like this to be true, but the universe is not here to please me--though Martha Coakley's nearly unprecedented gift for putting her foot in her mouth certainly seems to be.

Nonetheless, I think it's worth speculating: what if? What happens to health care?

The progressive pundits seem to be pretty united in their belief that this is no big deal, nothing to see here, move along--either they'll rush through a compromise, or the House will pass the Senate bill unchanged. The libertarians I know, on the other hand, are equally convinced that this means the death of the bill. At this point, there are clearly a fair number of Democrats who would really rather not pass this, but are afraid to defy their party. If all they have to do is stall long enough to let Brown take his seat, well, that's not hard to do, especially since Stupak seems so far pretty adamant about accepting the Senate compromise.

Moreover, Brown's election probably makes a bunch of Blue Dogs even more nervous than they already are--when they're already about as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. How much discipline can the leadership exert on those quailing members, given how shaky many of their campaigns are looking? If Scott Brown can get elected in Massachusetts with a pretty clear mandate to kill the health care bill--even in an off-year special election . . . well, how frightened are you really that Harry Reid's going to be around next year to take his vengeance?

The leadership could try to stall Brown's certification. But I have no evidence that they are any less appalled by the idea than I am--and even if they were, I'm pretty sure they've already realized that it would be political suicide. There is simply a limit to how brazenly legislators can flout the will of the folks who elect them.

So I guess I'm in the camp that thinks a Scott Brown victory means that the health care bill goes down. On the other hand, given the near-perfect correlation of one's opinion on the matter with one's opinion on the health care bill, I think it's pretty clear that we're all seeing what we want to see.
Who would have guessed that a Massachusetts special election would be so interesting?