Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Maybe they just liked him better

They're talking about him. From the Huffington Post to the Washington Post, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, from the morning shows to The Daily Show, and all over the blogosphere, they're talking about Scott Brown and what his victory means.

As I'm sure you've heard, Scott Brown, a Republican, won the special election in Massachusetts to fill the late Edward Kennedy's seat in the United States Senate. If you're wondering why this is so newsworthy, then let me be as brief as possible. First of all, Massachusetts has been described as being bluer than a Smurf, meaning a Republican could hardly expect to win any sort of election, let alone to a seat held by a man so liberal that he challenged then President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination. That's all conventional wisdom, though. Given the number of Republican governors Massachusetts has elected in recent years, it's not quite that surprising to have a Republican senator.

More than that, the U.S. Senate rules say that, in order to end debate on a particular piece of legislation, you need 60 senators to agree that it's been discussed enough and it's time to vote. The Republican Party, with Scott Brown, now has enough voices in the Senate to keep any bill from coming to a vote. Obviously, this is significant, given the number of highly controversial bills facing the Senate, including whatever final version of health care President Obama and the Congressional Democratic leadership present to the Senate in the next few weeks.

Did that really matter to voters in Massachusetts, though? Was parliamentary procedure foremost in the minds of people who went to the ballot box? Perhaps. After all, Scott Brown campaigned on the promise that he would oppose the health care bill. Keep in mind, MA already has universal health care, or something very much like it, and most don't want to rock the boat by allowing the federal government to pass its own version, which would be redundant at best in the Bay State. Voters around the country wonder if the federal government should pass it at all, since MA has demonstrated that states can handle the issue on their own.

But let's forget about the rest of the country, for the moment. Taking this election out of the context of recent Republican gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey, why would Bay Staters vote for Scott Brown? He's very likable, first of all. He's a family man who did most of his campaigning himself. He was on the trail, unlike his opponent, Martha Coakley, who seemed reluctant to "shake hands in the cold". In fact, Coakley made a number of missteps, not the least of which was referring to former Red Sox great Curt Schilling as a Yankees fan. Though she claimed it was just a joke, the deed was done.

An even greater mistake, of course, was taking MA voters for granted. As I mentioned before, MA is seen as one of the most liberal states in the union. You can hardly blame people for assuming that Coakley would win, especially after she'd risen to the top of a small group of potential Democratic candidates in a primary just months earlier. However, during the holiday season, she took several weeks off campaigning, while Brown continued on the stump, introducing himself to voters and spreading his message. He had a chance to define the race, and to define himself as the best possible candidate to send to Washington, while his opponent was basically missing in action.

We just had an election here in Virginia. The winner of the election, Bob McDonnell, campaigned on the issues. He didn't attack his opponent, Creigh Deeds, he didn't smear anyone in Washington or anywhere else; he simply stood up every day and said what he planned to do for the people of Virginia. While Deeds did his best to throw mud, McDonnell stayed positive, and he won in a proverbial landslide.

That's how Scott Brown won. His message was positive, issues-based, and occasionally populist. He listened to the voters, and he gave them something to listen to in return. He didn't pander, certainly; he was himself on the stump, and he'll likely be himself in Washington, too. That's why people responded to him so well.

There are many theories about how he pulled off his "miracle upset". Some say the administration and Congress had gone too liberal this last year, while others actually claim they hadn't gone liberal enough. Some say they've been too ineffective, too inefficient, or too inconsiderate of what the public wants. While any of these theories may or may not be true, the "sweeping tide" that's making its way across the country, in my opinion, had less to do with Brown's victory than the fact that he was simply the better candidate. Certainly, he wouldn't have had as much money in his campaign coffers or as many staffers and volunteers without the support of Virginians, Louisianans, Utahns, New Yorkers, and other Americans. In the end, though, the only Americans who could vote were the ones in his home state; and that's where he won.

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