Monday, January 18, 2010

Why is Brown leading Coakley?

(Updated below.)

In the race to fill Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat, Republican Scott Brown appears to be ahead of Democrat Martha Coakley -- leading prognosticator Charlie Cook declares the race a toss-up but "put[s] a finger on the scale for Brown." The GOP is revitalized, it seems, and conservatives are as gleeful as they've been in a long, long time.

But why is Brown ahead? Why is a Republican leading in a solidly Democratic state in a race to fill the seat of a Democratic legend?

A lot of it surely has to do with the fact that Coakley has proven to be a terrible candidate, while Brown, who has a history of playing to the Palin-teabagging far right, has successfully tapped into seething Republican anger and resentment at a time when Democrats are split over Obama and health-care reform and are generally unenthusiastic. (2008 seems like such a long, long time ago.) Indeed, I think Paul Krugman hit the nail on the head today:

Wow. A video clip has surfaced from 2008 in which Scott Brown, the Republican candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, clearly suggested that President Obama may have been born out of wedlock.

I'm sure some will try to dismiss this as an isolated stray remark. But it's clear if you watch the video that there's a broader context: Brown is clearly aligning himself with the Limbaugh wing of the GOP, in which slurs along these lines are standard fare. And as Steve Benen points out, claims about Obama's illegitimacy were an integral part of the birther craziness.

So will this actually make political waves? If Brown were a Democrat, it would instantly be a huge scandal. The outrage machine would be working overtime. And the news media would, of course, pick it up.

But Democrats don’t have the same kind of outrage infrastructure. Can they nevertheless find a way to use this? I guess we’ll soon find out.

We will, but the key is that Republicans are extremely successful at translating outrage into electoral success. Sure, some Democrats are angry at Obama over health care, angry that he didn't do enough to push for more robust reform, as well as angry that he hasn't been progressive enough with respect to national security and other key issues, but the Republican "outrage machine," matched only by the Republican smear machine, has unified Republicans in a way that just isn't even possible for Democrats, who are far more likely to succumb to internecine strife. And the media, who tend to buy into Republican propaganda and highlight Democratic strife, have established a narrative that comes right from the playbook of, as they are essentially a conduit to the public for, the "outrage machine."

So why is Brown ahead? Because Republicans are outraged and pissed off and unified behind smears, and because Democrats are deeply divided and somewhat apathetic, and because the media are promulgating the Republican narrative and declaring it to be the truth. For all Coakley's faults, this seems to be what's going on -- and it seems to be why the voters of a decidedly blue state may well elect a suck-up-to-Limbaugh Republican at a time when the country can ill-afford any more Republicans in the Senate.

There will be a lot of blame to go around if Coakley loses, and Coakley and her campaign will deserve much for it, but the reality is that the Republicans are extremely effective when they're outraged.


Update: According to CNN, "[m]ultiple advisers to President Obama have privately told party officials that they believe... Coakley is going to lose."

Obama was in Massachusetts campaigning for Coakley on Sunday. A Coakley loss will be interpreted by Republicans as a major defeat for Obama, but, while Obama ought to be blamed, somewhat, perhaps, for losing the support of progressives and some of the Democratic base, I'm not so sure he could have done all that much for Coakley. Again, she's run a bad campaign, and the Republican smear/outrage machine is in full swing.

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  • Delusional. I'm from Massachusetts and as a right of center independent, this is an opportunity of a lifetime to break the "Kennedy" hold on this seat. And it still may not work. Coakley and the union thugs will be working hard! Listen to yourself. As you claim that the Republicans are a smear machine, you did nothing BUT smear Scott Brown. If Obama's policies were so good, 59 Democratic Senators should do the trick and the filibuster wouldn't even be an issue. The Republicans get away with the filibuster becuase the polls and their constituents tell them they can.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:56 AM  

  • You might get a little more credibility, Anon, if you didn't whine about "smears" and then in the same breath say "union thugs."

    By Blogger Mustang Bobby, at 7:43 AM  

  • Okay fine. No more union thug comments. Here's the thing. Obama, as I recall, received over 62% of the vote in Massachusetts. Kerry and Gore did similarly well.

    Brown is attracting 91% of Republicans. Coakley is attracting only in the low to mid 70's from the Democrats. Perhaps some of that is the Democratic disillusioned base staying home. The big thing, however, is the independents. In 2008, independents went OVERWHELMINGLY for Obama. The polls suggest they may go OVERWHELMINGLY for Brown. These people are not lunatic right-wingers; they are not teabaggers. I know some of these people. Among the many reasons, at least in this state, that they broke for Obama is that the could not stomach Sarah Palin. In Masschusetts, she was a major drag, even though she might have helped, let's say, in Alabama or Oklahoma. Many of these same people now plan to vote for Brown.

    There are hardly any Republicans in Massachusetts. Only 14% of the electorate registers Republican. The Mass. Republican Party has been in shambles for years; it's a total joke. I tend to vote for the Republican candidates in this state, but the party "machinery" is next to non-existent.

    Remember, too, that Brown, if he wins, will only have 3 years to serve out Kennedy's unexpired term. Surely the Democrats in this state can produce a much better candidate in 2012, at least from the charisma standpoint, than Martha Coakley.

    That said, she may still win tomorrow. With the exception of Bill Weld's reelection win in 1994 over Mark Roosevelt (74-26), every Republican win in this state is borderline miraculous.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:10 AM  

  • Independents are independents for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that many of them can't see beyond the end of the week. They usually vote with their gut; they're mercurial, which is a polite way of saying that if they have any convictions at all, they change them depending on their mood, not on the needs of others. They will often vote for a candidate who is diametrically opposed to a particular point of view than them -- say abortion or gay rights -- but they do it to send a "message." Yeah, well, that may easily be, but then they have to live with that message that they sent -- and two months later they forgot both the message or why they voted that way.

    I'm not saying that all independents are like that; a lot of them don't like either party and have good reasons to. But throwing a tantrum isn't the way to win people over to your point of view; all it does is make them stay the hell away from you... or figure out a way to exploit your anger for their own needs and screw you.

    By Blogger Mustang Bobby, at 9:27 AM  

  • Obama was born on August 4th

    His parents were married on February 2nd.

    YOU do the math.

    At best, he was conceived out of wedlock and his parents married before he was born.

    By Blogger xcowboy2, at 11:28 AM  

  • I agree with you Bobby about independents, but we've seen it work in both directions in a lot of elections. It's just the way it is.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:59 AM  

  • Anon, I agree. Next time around we'll see it go the other way. Independents are like weathervanes; they can't tell if the wind blows or if it sucks.

    xcowboy2, not sure of your point there; I'm willing to guess that a lot of couples get married after the rabbit died. I know that was the case with my parents.

    By Blogger Mustang Bobby, at 3:46 PM  

  • Yeah, my in-laws too. I'm not an Obama supporter, but I have no doubt he's a US citizen. His birth announcement was in a Hawaii newspaper in 1961. I just don't see Barack, Sr., and Anne Dunham saying, "Let's fake this for when he runs for President one day." Let's debate policy and not engage in lunacy.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:29 AM  

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