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News from the Votemaster

Brown Wins in Massachusetts     Permalink

Two weeks ago it seemed inconceivable that Democrat Martha Coakley could lose the special election in Masachusetts to Republican Scott Brown, but she managed to do it. Brown won 52% to 47%, with the Libertarian candidate getting the remaining 1%. Here are the polling results from pollster.com

MA Senate polls

From the graph, it is clear that Coakley completely collapsed in a very short time. There were no exit polls so it is hard to tell exactly what happened, but from the pre-election polling it is clear that Republicans were highly motivated, Democrats were not, and independents liked Brown better than Coakley.

There are a lot of ways one can spin this and all are likely to be tried in the next 24 hours and beyond. First, Coakley was a poor candidate and Brown was a good one. That's certainly true but it is not the whole story. The national Democrats will try to lay the entire blame at her feet, but that's unfair. She was only part of the problem.

Second, when people are hurting, as many are now, they need someone to blame and with the Democrats controlling both the White House and Congress, they are the obvious targets. Since President Obama campaigned for Coakley, he can hardly say he was only dimly aware of the race and its not his fault.

But probably the most fundamental reason for Coakley's loss is that the Democrats were elected in 2008 to provide change and failed to do it. When the banks collapsed due to their own recklessness, they were bailed out. When the auto industry came begging, it was bailed out. The health-insurance bill battle dragged on and on, in no small part because Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) was desperate to get one Republican vote. For a lot of people, the Democrats care as little for them as the Republicans do and they were punished for that.

Contrast the Democrat's approach to what the Republicans did in 2000 after an extremely narrow and highly contested victory. They said: "We won, you lost, and now we are going to enact our program." They used the budget reconciliation process to ram through the Bush tax cuts. To a lot of people, this shows that the Republicans stand for something and are willing to fight hard for what they believe in. Americans like decisiveness.

Undoubtedly, some Democrats are going to use this election to say the sky is falling and they should be more like Republicans while others will say that those people who like the Republicans will prefer real Republicans to fake ones. Expect much infighting in the coming days and weeks.

As to the health-insurance bill, the Democrats have a couple of options as discussed here yesterday. First, they can try to settle their internal differences today, get a CBO score, and pass the bill before senator-elect Brown is seated in early February. Second, they could try to get the House to pass the Senate bill intact and then make changes to it using the budget reconciliation process, which can't be filibustered. Of course, option three is abandon the whole project and then show up in November empty handed, which will guarantee a Republican landslide.

Clearly, Obama's plans for 2010 are strongly affected by this election. Getting actual legislation through the Senate will be very difficult because Republicans don't want to pass legislation; they want him to fail. From their point of view, that is an excellent strategy. The Democrats will get credit for any legislation, so the Republicans' best hope is that there isn't any. But still, Obama has the power to frame the debate and if used wisely, could paint the Republicans into a corner by forcing them to oppose popular issues like reining in the banks. Another issue he could push is immigration reform, which pits the grassroots Republicans (opposed to it) against the big-business Republicans (in favor of it). But any way you slice it, the Republicans are stronger today than they were yesterday.

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