For Purposes of Prognostication, View Senate Race Through the Prism of High School

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Running for public office is no different from running for senior class president in high school," I remember a legislator telling me years ago.

In reply, I said something intelligent like, "What do you mean?" And he said, "Do you have anything between those big ears of yours? Popularity! It's simple: every election is a popularity contest."

In that context, consider the 2012 election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a way to answer the question, "Would Elizabeth 'Professor' Warren have beaten Scott 'Centerfold' Brown for senior class president?" Ask yourself, "Who would have won if Warren and Brown had been in my senior class," and you'll have the answer that everyone else will have to wait until the night of Nov. 6, 2012, for.

I grew up in a city where Republicans were as rare as nuns in a nudist colony, but I'm pretty sure Brown would have beaten Warren at my school pretty easily. And judging by what I heard historian Doris Kearns Goodwin say yesterday on "Morning Joe," I'm inferring that Brown would have beaten Warren at Kearns Goodwin's school, too.

"...we need Scott Browns in this world," said she, who once worked for Lyndon Johnson and used to teach at Harvard, and who is, let's face it, pretty much a liberal darling. "If there were more Scott Browns in more states and more cities, then perhaps this partisanship (in Congress) would not be as dysfunctional as it is because he's able to cross party lines, he's able to think independently."

Within hours of Kearns Goodwin's appearance on "Morning Joe," the Scott Brown for U.S. Senate Committee had issued a press release drawing attention to her comments and using them as a starting point for a proclamation of Brown's bona fides as an Independent with a capital I. The release quoted "Brown's aides" (unnamed) as saying the former state lawmaker "has shown an independent streak since the day he defied political oddsmakers and won a January 2010 special election to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion who had kept the seat in Democratic hands for 46 years."

Elsewhere, unnamed "campaign aides" were quoted as saying, "It's about more than politics for Brown. The moves are part of his campaign promise to be an independent voice and moderate voter in the Senate...Aides rattle off a laundry list of examples showing Brown bucking his party from his earliest days in the Senate: he voted for the new START treaty with Russia, voted to repeal the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy banning gays in the military. He also voted against Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan and an effort to defund Planned Parenthood."

And if clueless readers had somehow missed the point that Scott Brown is an Independent guy with a capital I, the release ended on this note: "Scott Brown has never been a right-wing ideologue," said one campaign aide. "He has always approached each issue with an open mind and independent manner, and votes in the best interests of his constituents and state, regardless of party affiliation."

Brown didn't go from the Massachusetts Senate to the U.S. Senate in 2010 because all the Republicans voted for him, and Warren won't move from Cambridge to Washington, D.C. next year if all the Democrats vote for her. There are not enough registered Democrats or Republicans in the Bay State to tip an electoral contest to any of their respective statewide candidates. Independents rule! As of this past spring, 36.5% of all registered voters were Democrats and 11.3% were Republicans, whereas 51.9% were "unenrolled," which is to say they consider themselves independent. And that's a category that has been growing every year for a long time now.

According to the Elections Division of the office of the Massachusetts Secretary of State, Bill Galvin, independents are heavily concentrated in the central and western parts of the state, and are least likely to be found in urban areas. Every suburban community seems to have a high percentage of unenrolled voters. For example, in Plymouth, the largest community in the state, territory-wise, 60% of voters are independents.

You're bound to see Scott Brown in his pick-up truck cruising the burbs next year, but you'll also see him stuck in traffic in Boston a lot because that's where there are tons of Democrats. He'll want to keep them in tune to his song of independent political expression or persuade them to join his cool kids choir.

Judging by what Boston Mayor Tom Menino, long a poohbah of the Democratic Party, has said this year about Brown, Ted Kennedy's successor has made serious inroads in the Hub. Please recall Menino emerging from a breakfast meeting with Brown at the Parkman House in January and telling reporters, "He's a Republican and I'm a Democrat, but those days are over." And don't forget Menino telling the Boston Globe in early September, "Scott Brown has something about him that people gravitate to," and then wondering if Elizabeth Warren's candidacy is "saleable." He said, "Do I know she can be saleable? I don't know that. But there are some people -- who have greater political minds than mine -- who believe so. But I think you have to be out there and squeeze the flesh and see how they feel."

Saleable. Isn't that a synonym for popular?

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