(Jim Clark) – Political pundits on both the left and right have weighed in on the causes of the remarkable defeat in Massachusetts of Attorney General Martha Coakley by State Senator Scott Brown in the race for the US Senate seat vacancy created by the death of Ted Kennedy. Republicans are giddy with delight at the upset, blaming it on Obama’s health care legislation, while President Obama improbably attributed the result to “the same forces that swept me into office.”
In November of last year Coakley polled 31% ahead of Brown and as recently as mid-December her lead was 17%. The contest was seen as such a slam dunk for the Democrat that Massachusetts media did not contract with any independent pollsters to conduct exit polls with voters and analyze the results. As a result we have relatively little unbiased analysis of the events.
As the January 19 election approached the gap narrowed to a dead heat and President Obama made the decision to go to Massachusetts (where he enjoys a 60% to 40% favorability ratio) and campaign for Coakley. By the time Obama returned to Washington Brown had opened up a 9 point lead and on Election Day won by a solid 5 points.
One national pollster, Scott Rasmussen, made the decision to conduct exit polls at his own expense. What his firm found was that Scott Brown voters were most concerned about Obama’s soft stance on terrorism . . . disaffection with his health care legislation came in second. Apparently in many Bay State voters’ minds all of January’s disturbing reports about arm twisting, bribery, special deals for unions and the like by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seeking votes to pass the Senate version of Obamacare were overshadowed by the ineptitude of Obama Administration officials’ handling of the underwear bomber’s attempt to blow up a US airliner Christmas Day.
Could this rapid change in political fortunes have been foreseen? In Massachusetts registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 3 to 1. However 51% of all Massachusetts voters are registered nonpartisan. Last November nonpartisan voters were the margin of victory for GOP gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia, two states handily won by Obama just a year before. And Obama’s visits to New Jersey and Virginia to campaign for the Democrat candidates failed just as it did later in Massachusetts.
So do these elections represent a Republican surge? Pollster Rasmussen’s findings are a little more believable. He found that voters feel a growing disconnect between themselves and political leaders. “Americans don’t want to be governed from the left, the right or center” Rasmussen found. “They want to govern themselves” he concluded. Scott Brown campaigned as an “independent pro-choice, anti-tax Republican who is committed to do the will of Massachusetts voters”, a message that apparently triggered a tsunami of independent voters to switch into his camp in a very short time.
Rasmussen reports that: “most voters are frustrated with political dialogue that polarizes and divides the public; they have come to believe that most politicians are corrupt and that neither major political party has the answers.”
Rasmussen’s analysis of Brown’s victory provides guidance for Nevada candidates for public office: emphasize independence, tell voters that if you are elected they will be in charge, and never diss your opponent.
It also helps if you’ve been a nude centerfold like Scott Brown
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee)