If Scott Brown passes on the 2013 special election for a gubernatorial run as some have speculated he will what does that mean will happen in 2014?
It would result in a potential primary showdown for a statewide office the likes of which the Republican Party hasn’t seen in decades, possibly replicating the tumultuous battle between Joe Malone and Paul Cellucci. Who in the GOP could really cause problems for Brown in a statewide primary? Charlie Baker, the party’s 2010 nominee for governor. Since losing to Patrick in 2010 Baker has remained an active presence in state Republican politics going to fundraisers all the while maintaining a public profile on radio and television. A nasty statewide primary between two moderate Massachusetts Republicans in 2014 could be disastrous for a party that is desperately trying to distance itself from a more conservative national party that has a toxic brand locally.
A brutal slugfest in 2014 coupled with the fact Brown maintains impressive statewide name recognition and popularity even after getting his clock cleaned by Elizabeth Warren makes me doubt he will stay out of the 2013 special election. For Brown to win in 2013, though, is another matter entirely.
Brown probably couldn’t have done anything differently to change the outcome of his failed reelection bid because of the huge institutional advantages that a presidential election affords Massachusetts Democrats. All the weird sideshow negativity from his campaign about Warren’s self-proclaimed American Indian heritage didn’t help or hurt him that much in the end as he was dragged down by the hardcore national social conservatives in his party that couldn’t stop saying dumb things about rape. This election was largely Warren’s to lose as soon as Obama announced he was formally won his party’s nomination in Charlotte and Todd Akin started saying crazy things on camera.
The special election before us throws many of the advantages the Democrats have out the window even though they’ve hired Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan, two of the smartest people in Massachusetts politics. The Democrats will not have all of the typical local get out the vote operations they normally do plus they won’t be able to rely on a popular president or governor driving Democratic turnout statewide. Democrats will still have a huge registration advantage over Republicans but they will still need to identify those voters and make sure they vote. Turnout will rest solely on the ability of the two parties to drag their identified voters to the polls and the likability of the two candidates. Brown certainly has the second part of the equation locked up.
Brown has earned a reputation as one of the best campaigners in the entire state is because he has been through the special election grind twice and came out a winner each time. The guy knows how to work specials like nobody in this state does. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a natural when it comes to working a room and crowd. He’s arguably the second best retail politician in the state after Governor Deval Patrick.
As the country becomes increasingly unhappy with what they see as a “broken” hyperpartisan political system Brown’s self-proclaimed and demonstrable independence is something that could help in a special election. Plus, it will be impossible for Democrats to nationalize the election by playing up the fear that Brown would caucus with Akin and other extreme social conservatives as he would only up the number of Republicans in the Senate to 46.
Whether Massachusetts Republicans like it or not they only have two known statewide entities that are battle-tested for the two highest profile statewide offices: Baker and Brown. Unless a Republican with deep pockets enters the race a Brown run for Senate in 2013 would only feature token opposition in a contested primary from the party’s hard right (think a Mike Franco or Jeff Beatty type) and benefit the party in the short term. A 2014 run for governor against Baker could result in a lingering bitterness that only prolongs the time Massachusetts Republicans have spent in the political wilderness.
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