This truck will be parked here for a while
We may never see an election more important than the special one to replace the late Ted Kennedy; it has captured the attention of every political scientist, pundit and blow hard in the country for almost a month. Even the most rabid Republican back in December would not have admitted that his party could ever win a Senate seat from Massachusetts. With Scott Brown’s victory, the world has turned on its head, the beginning of the Republican comeback has begun; even before the Democratic majority had warmed the cushions of their plush congressional seats.
It’s hard to imagine that only a year and a half ago the rather insignificant State Senator from outside Boston drove his now-famous pick-up truck to UMass to speak to the UMass Republican Club. A very electric, moderate and kind man, he endeared himself to the audience with his “common man” presence and sent Facebook friend requests to every member. Though, Republican candidates in Massachusetts are few and far between, Scott Brown’s style exuded the earnestness that told me and the rest of the organization, that he was far different than the rest of the candidates: he had common sense, he had a political future.
Brown was a good candidate, though in a state like Massachusetts, greatness is the prerequisite for a Republican victory. Unless, your opponent is Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. From the beginning of the campaign, she knew she would cruise to victory. Driving through the state a couple of months ago, you would not see a single Martha Coakley lawn sign; while Brown campaigned diligently. Only when she saw Scott Brown’s headlights flashing in her rear view mirror around three weeks ago, did her campaign machine kick in.
This dangerous underestimation is what cost her the race. The scrambling that occurred in the last couple of weeks before the election caused Coakley to make painful mistakes, such as misspelling Massachusetts and the vile error of putting Scott Brown’s face on a background of the still standing World Trade Center in an attack ad. Public outrage forced her to pull the ad within hours. From the beginning of the campaign, she had largely avoided any discussion about her beliefs and policies, but in the week before the election, the quotes that Republicans were able to mine from her interviews were nothing short of Palin-esque. She upset many Catholics by saying that there cannot be freedom of religion in a workplace if there is a law that would contradict it, such as laws that would force hospital employees to perform treatments that would violate their consciences.
Nothing alienates Bostonians as much as a quip against the Red Sox. Coakley called Curt Schilling “just another Yankee Fan.” She further alienated voters by running so many negative ads on Television and Radio, that even Democrats were appalled, as opposed to Brown’s “Hey, Massachusetts, I drive a truck, I’m a nice guy” ads. Every aspect of Coakley’s campaign was so sophomoric and amateur, that I can’t help but suspect her campaign was staffed by monkeys.
The eyes of the whole country became fixed on this election when the possibility of a Brown victory became realistic. When the Democrats realized their lead had been wasted they brought in Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama himself to support Coakley and take a few shots at Scott Brown. But Brown was unconcerned, according to the Associated Press, saying (like a gentleman) “I hope he has a safe trip and enjoys himself and has a good trip looking around a great state.”
Coakley’s lackluster performance throughout the campaign severely demoralized her base. Independents were an easy gain for Brown, but if you were not one of the Democrats who voted for Brown, you probably weren’t so excited about Coakley. The voters on Brown’s side were as excited for him as Democrats were for Obama during 2008. Finally, Republicans and right leaning independents began to feel like their vote could finally count and that Brown would need every vote he could get – nothing could have stopped a Brown supporter from voting on Election day.
Turnout would have benefited Coakley, if weather and complacency hadn’t interfered. Many Democrats, not very excited about their ticket, decided to stay home. Why would they brave terrible weather, just to vote for someone who they didn’t really like, running for a party that usually wins whether they vote or not?
The residents of Massachusetts who exercised their right to vote have finally beaten the machine that has been ignoring a huge amount of constituents, driving liberals into complacency and making Republicans afraid of identifying themselves as Republicans. The notion of a large majority of independents actually being closet Republicans is a real one.
The decades of Democratic domination had beaten the will to compete from these Republicans and finally Scott Brown gave them “Hope.” Ironically, during Brown’s victory speech, his supporters cheered “Yes we can!”
The lessons Democrats should learn from this election are to never be complacent, that negative ads can backfire, that political clout will not overcome hard work and never underestimate a supposedly weak opponent. Now even some very left leaning liberals, such as Representative Anthony Weiner and many moderates, as reported in the New York Times, are calling for a re-evaluation of Obama’s “Agenda for Change” in order to save their own seats in this year’s midterm elections. It will be fascinating to see how a much-weakened President Obama will spin his agenda in next week’s State of the Union address.
Dmitriy Shapiro is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.