Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.
How will Democrats/Republicans spin a loss if their party's candidate loses in the Massachusetts Senate race?
Richard S. Lindzen, atmospheric physicist and professor at MIT, said:
The answer is pretty predictable. Whoever wins will declare the election to have been a referendum on Obama. If Coakley loses, the loss will be attributed to a poor campaign, and if Brown loses, it will be attributed to the fact that Massachusetts is a liberal bastion.
If Brown wins, it will mean that he succeeded in splitting the Democrats by exploiting the very real divide among the largely Catholic working Democrats (I use the word 'working' simply to distinguish this group from those who are largely in the professions or academia), and the very liberal Democrat base which is largely in the liberal professions or academia. If he loses, it will be because he failed to split this coalition. With the death of Ted Kennedy, there also died a major source of the cement for this coalition, so there is a considerable chance for a Brown victory.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said:
If the election is a close win for the Democrat Republicans and neutral observers will note two things. This is Massachusetts, it shouldn’t have been close and the polling showed 25% of citizens expect the Democrats to steal the election via ACORN. A Democrat win flying in the face of the recent polls and their trends would highlight the likelihood of voter fraud.
If the Republican wins, the Democrats may learn something. Something they didn’t learn from the April 15 tea party rallies, the July 4 rallies, the August revolt and the September 12 rallies, the Virginia and New Jersey elections and the uproar over corruption in buying Senate votes for health care.
But I vote the Dems learn nothing. A reporter called me today and said Axelrod told journalists their plan for the next 12 months was to be hyper-partisan and brag about their big government programs as good for the middle class. That is what they did for the last 12 months with somewhat limited success. No learning all year. Kinda like the Bush years.
Hal Lewis, professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara, said:
The Republicans won't need to, since even if they lose they've already won. For the Democrats, I would expect an effort to portray it as local, with no impact on the big picture. But nothing about this generation of Democrats is rational---they are so full of hatred and so dependent on character assassination that anything is possible. I was a sailor in the US Navy when I first voted for Franklin D Roosevelt---not only was I different, but so were Democrats.
Michelle D. Bernard, president and CEO of the Independent Women's Forum, said:
Republicans shouldn't have to spin a loss in today's special election. This is a Massachusetts election. Just about 15 percent of Massachusetts voters are registered Republicans, making it astonishing that their candidate, Scott Brown, is even in this race. Yet Republican expectations for a victory are high, and many will be sorely disappointed by a loss. Republicans will have to reiterate that the close race sent a message by itself: Voters are disgusted by politics in Washington. Republicans are prepared to capitalize on this voter anger and Democrats continue to push a far left, big government, “we don’t read bills before voting on them” agenda at their political peril.
Democrats have a bigger challenge in explaining why this race is close, let alone explaining a Coakley loss. The spin being tested thus far revolves around blaming Coakley for running a terrible campaign (true enough, but that shouldn't be enough to put her in this predicament) and that voters are wrongly blaming current Washington leaders for problems that were created by their predecessors. That may be the best they can do. An election loss will add to the growing p.r. problem for Democratic leaders, especially those from traditionally Republican districts. Their big challenge is to explain why they continue to push an agenda (particularly the healthcare bill) that is opposed by a majority of the American people. And I just don't know how you spin that.
Alan Abramowitz, professor of political science at Emory University, said:
easy for Republicans — they will argue, with some justification, that
they came much closer than they ever should have in a strongly
Democratic state and that even a narrow loss reflects widespread public
disenchantment with the president and the Democratic Congress. For
Democrats, the easy way out will be to blame Coakley for a running a
terrible campaign. She did, but there is clearly more going on than
that. As the party out of power, the Republicans are now benefiting
from voter frustration with the economy and the fact that Washington
seems to be more concerned with taking care of Wall Street than with
helping Main Street. The president needs to counter this perception
with a new focus on job creation and a populist message that shows that
Democrats are more concerned about ordinary Americans than Wall Street
bankers. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Cabinet shake-up sometime
soon and Tim Geithner could be the first to go. It may not be fair,
but someone's got to take the blame.
Rob Richie, president of FairVote, said:
The Republican spin would be easy — "It's a shocker that this race was even close."
The Democratic spin would obviously be harder in a state that hasn't voted for a Republican for any federal office since 1994. It likely would focus on the perceived deficiency of Coakley's campaign, but should include an explicit apology for taking the race for granted and high-handed behavior like changing state law to appoint an interim senator. Without doubt the campaign's defining line was Brown's, "With all due respect it's not the Kennedys' seat, and its not the Democrats' seat, it's the people's seat."
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:
I don't know about spin, but I think the Democrats need to be reminded that they need to continuously engage their supporters via social media, to counter the disinformation in the press. Better learning it now than in November.
Michael D. Tanner, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, said:
If Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts special election today, Democrats will undoubtedly offer a variety of excuses. Coakley was a poor candidate. The “political climate” was bad. The dog ate their ballots.
But in reality, there can be no denying that this election was a massive rejection of the Democratic healthcare bills. There were no pale pastels or blurred differences on this issue. Scott Brown has made his opposition to the bill a centerpiece of his campaign. He has promised to be the 41st vote to sustain a filibuster and kill the bill. Martha Coakley has pledged to vote for the bill. The issue has featured in ads, debates, and public discussions. And according to polls, in Massachusetts, home of Ted Kennedy and RomneyCare, more than half of voters oppose the version of healthcare reform being rushed through Congress.
This election should be a clear wakeup call to Democrats. Support this government takeover of the healthcare system at your peril.
John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:
The more interesting feature of the windup of the Massachusetts campaign is that the final TV ad from Martha Coakley was all Obama, not Coakley. And the president didn't even mention the healthcare measure that Scott Brown said he opposes (and expects to be the 41st GOP vote in the Senate). The healthcare issue is considered very controversial even in Massachusetts, which has its own healthcare law. Scott Brown's final ad featured him opposing healthcare from his kitchen (folksiness surely intended). I'm told that Coakley hurt herself with her comment that Catholics and others who oppose abortion shouldn't work in hospitals.
The GOP had better be watching the vote count! Democrats are worried and they know that a GOP win in Massachusetts would send a huge message throughout the nation.
Bill Press, host of the "Bill Press Show" and a contributor to the Pundits Blog, said:
The spin on Massachusetts is already written. Republicans will spin a loss as a win, just because they came so close. Democrats will spin a loss as mostly Martha Coakley's fault, which also happens to be the truth.
Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:
Democrats: It was all Coakley's fault: She ran a terrible campaign, she was an awful candidate, and complacency (not Obama, not the healthcare bill, and certainly not the big-government agenda of the Democrats) was the real culprit.
Republicans: Brown was/is really a liberal Republican, the Northeast United States is irretrievably corrupt, legions of the dead voted (they stole the election! We demand a recount!) — and we came close in the bluest state in the Union and that should tell you something. (This last talking point, in my opinion, will have some merit).
Peter Fenn, Pundits Blog contributor, said:
The pundits always need to explain elections with the one "silver bullet" that caused the victory or defeat. As you know this is simplistic and absurd. Some will say it was all about healthcare (surprise, the Republican spin), some will say that it was all about a bad campaign by Coakley (some Democrats), some will say that anger in the electorate is clearly the cause and that the "Tea Party" rules (Fox News spinners), some insiders will point to the distaste Massachusetts voters have for the Democrats in charge of Beacon Hill, the governor and the fact that key legislators are in prison or may be headed there. Add the usual: bad TV ads, poor fundraising and budgeting, failure to read the polls, overconfidence. So the bottom line, win or lose for Coakley, is that the post-mortems should refrain from the easy answer and the easy finger pointing.
What we are seeing around the country — the anger, the impatience, the pragmatic desire for action — is an extension of the 2008 campaign not a rejection of it. Obama is still the best change agent out there; the Republican Party of "NO NEW IDEAS" is clearly not the answer. But when voters are angry, if you are front and center, you get rolled over. For the Democrats, time to join them. Time to lead them.