Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rump party

The Massachusetts Republican Party has fielded such a dismally sparse slate of legislative candidates that its partisans can't dream, even mathematically, of gaining a majority in the state House of Representatives. Despite Martha Coakley's obvious vulnerability, the Republicans have no one to run against her.

How could the Republicans miss such an opportunity to make this election truly competitive? The ground is better for Republicans in Massachusetts than it has been in decades:

  • The national anger from the right has energized conservatives. (True, the most energized are extreme conservatives, who don't play well in Massachusetts anywhere besides newspaper comment threads and bilious talk radio.)
  • Scott Brown won in January, and it wasn't a fluke result of a special election, as turnout was very high.
  • The top of the Republican ticket is credible - Charlie Baker is conservative but not insane, though he appears to have less of the common touch than Mitt Romney.
  • The GOP should expect to win at least two statewide offices. (Anything less would be a disastrous fumble.)
  • Several high profile Democrats have been drummed out of the legislature on the way to indictment and possibly prison, including three straight House Speakers.
  • The current House Speaker, Robert DeLeo, though not to my knowledge under investigation, displayed the extent of his power in pushing racinos into the casino bill. Everyone outside the race track owners and employees in his district knows slot parlors are bad public policy, yet his parochial interest trumped the consensus on casinos in a way very embarrassing to Democrats (even though I was glad the whole bill was not enacted).
Yet twelve of forty Democratic Senators are unopposed, as well as a whopping 84 of 160 Democratic State Reps. This is, of course, good news. Most of my friends in the legislature are likely to win re-election, and their politics is good for us.

First, it's not campaign contributions the Republicans lack. They can often outspend Democrats three-to-one, as least for open seats.

They lack candidates because the career path of a legislator is middle class. How is a conservative businessman going to give up $250,000 a year for a $60,000 legislator's salary? Thus, brand new Republican candidates who've never even run for local office cluster at the top of the ballot, where at least they can hope for a U.S. Congressman's low six-figure salary. But it's not an accident that two of the most credible Republican candidates are Karyn Polito and Mary Connaughton. They've both been in campaigns before, locally and regionally. They know how it's done, where it's not clear that Baker does.

It's also not surprising that they're women. Republicans have done a terrible job of recruiting women to run, but women - especially married women out here in the suburbs - may have less economic pressure. Yet when a woman is primed to run statewide, the party fathers intervene (Jane Swift and Mitt Romney), or the party fractures (Kerry Healey and Christy Mihos, though he ran as an independent).

Massachusetts is not nearly as liberal as its national reputation, but it's very Democratic. It's just that the Democrats have liberal and centrist factions, and the Republicans fight over the remnants on the right. Hard to win elections that way, much less enough elections to contribute much to governing.

The Republican "leaders" have chosen instead to stay in control of their rump party and hope to win the governorship. Their alternative would require a move to the center and the recruitment of fewer CEOs and more suburban women. I'm not holding my breath.

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