Wednesday, January 20, 2010

National Referendum, or was Coakley a bad candidate?
I disagree with Nate Silver's assessment. He claims that the difference between Coakley's high water mark and her end result is the fault of her as a candidate, when a LOT changed on the national scene between those numbers (people had more time to digest healthcare, which was the key differentiator in statistics for who voted for and against Coakley).
Also, he claims Coakley was a terrible candidate. However, Scott Brown isn't exactly the next Reagan or Republican Obama. Very few people ever mention "wow, I'm inspired by Scott Brown!". Secondly, Coakley won a primary with three other strong candidates - one of whom has already been elected to the US House of Representatives by Mass residents (Capuano), one with a tremendous private sector record that would be useful in dealing with banks (Pagliuca, whose mistake was not making this apparent), and the founder of the most successful nonprofit in the country (Khazei). This was the most attention I can remember ever being given to any Democratic or Republican primary in this state (including for governor, where the primaries have actually been competitive). Maybe that's cuz it was Kennedy's seat, but it doesn't matter.
Maybe she ran a weak campaign - never has anyone seemed so arrogantly self-assured in her chances at victory - but she was not an inherently weak candidate. Not every candidate we elect has Obama's charisma, and that has never stopped those Democratic candidates in the past (seriously... have you ever listened to Barney Frank?). This wasn't MA getting deluded by personality over issues (as Krugman wants to believe), this wasn't an issue of an inherently weak candidate (third time this excuse has been used - VA and NJ also), this was a national referendum, largely on healthcare, spending and taxes. Watching Krugman, Silver, etc. rationalize what happened in defense of more of what we've been seeing in the last year (or even more liberal policy) has been almost comical in terms of its delusion.
More evidence for the fact that this was a national referendum can be seen in NJ and VA's results. Three's a trend, and when you have the uninspiring likes of Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie and Scott Brown engineering massive voting turnarounds by campaigning against a Democrat-controlled legislature with approval ratings in the 20s.... that is a national referendum. Brown didn't run against Coakley - he never said anything negative about Coakley - he ran against Pelosi and Reid.  When New Jersey and Massachusetts (very, very blue states) elect Republicans within two months of each other, coincident with those terrible approval ratings, there is something going on other than a strong candidate.
Would Brown have won if Coakley ran a better campaign? Probably not. Would the turnaround still have been huge? Yes... this was a THIRTY ONE POINT TURNAROUND. If you figure about 50% of people have their mind made up on the party they're voting for, regardless of the candidate and the environment, that means that 62% of voters who actually look at issues and candidates changed their mind. Independents have swung 3 to 1 against the Dems in all three states. A quarter of registered Democrats crossed party lines this time, largely listing healthcare as their concern, and again, that doesn't happen in races featuring similar pairs of candidates in MA.
Fortunately, even if the far left doesn't acknowledge the message, you have to believe anyone with a vulnerable congressional seat (not named Harry Reid) has heard the message loud and clear: if they don't govern from the center, they're going to be governing from the sofa. If only we see a rebellion like that in a red state, and actually get some bipartisan government going, we may be in for a better finish to the decade than the start has been.

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