To pull off this kind of huge upset, a lot of things have
to go right—only one of which is having your opponent run
an atrocious campaign.
Give credit to the brain trust behind Brown’s campaign:
Mitt Romney’s top people, bred in Massachusetts politics
and trained at the top levels of presidential combat. They
were assembled on the stage at Park Plaza last night: Beth
Myers, Beth Lindstrom, Peter Flaherty, Eric Fehrnstrom (texting
away even as Brown delivered his victory speech), and of
course the former governor himself, taking a victory lap
in front of a national audience of cable-watching conservatives
(and potential 2012 primary voters).
Watching them, it occurred to me that the same group spent
most of 2007 traipsing across Iowa, having built the Romney
strategy around winning that state’s caucuses; and that
during that time they may have picked up a lesson or two
from watching another campaign that bet heavily on Iowa:
As that campaign’s manager David Plouffe describes in The
Audacity to Win, Obama’s strategists knew from the start
that they could not beat Hillary Clinton among the people
who normally participate in caucuses. Thus, they had to
expand the playing field—greatly increase the number (and
type) of participants, so that the people who don’t normally
vote would overwhelm the regulars.
Brown faced the same dilemma. It was widely accepted that
turnout for the special election would be no more than 30
percent, or 1.2 million people—and that number would include
more than 600,000 who had already voted in the Democratic
primary. The math isn’t difficult.
If you like poker analogies, Coakley had a winning five-card
hand, so Brown decided to make it a seven-card game.
did this (not entirely unlike Obama) by appealing broadly
to those who are disaffected, discouraged and just generally
annoyed with government and politics. Those people don’t
typically vote, and certainly not in a special election.
But Brown made them feel that they were a part of something
that would strike a dagger at complacent, arrogant, corrupt
politicians, and it turned out that people were ready to
join that cause. In the end, more than a million people
voted for Brown; more than enough to flood the Democratic
The time and place could hardly have been riper for a collective
rage against the political machine. State politics has become,
to most citizens of the commonwealth, a parade of fools:
Sal DiMasi, Dianne Wilkerson, Jim Marzilli, Marian Walsh,
Anthony Galluccio and the endless Deval Patrick blooper
Meanwhile, Washington Democrats, freed from the infuriating
gridlock of bipartisan government, have introduced the tragicomic
gridlock of single-party government.
Perhaps the most important moment in this Senate campaign
came one month ago, 10 days after the primary—when Senate
leadership finally passed health-care legislation by essentially
paying off Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson for his agreement to
cast the deciding 60th vote.
Brown denounced the deal and the backroom, corrupt politics
it represented. Coakley, who had previously been aghast
at the anti-abortion compromise that secured passage in
the House, praised the Senate for its work.
For the generally conservative, largely Catholic “Finneran
Democrats” of Massachusetts, the message was clear: Coakley
condemns those who seek to save life and embraces those
who cheat the taxpayer.
Republicans close to the campaign almost immediately began
pointing to the crystallizing effect of that development;
I never heard a single Democratic insider express awareness
that it was even an issue, up to and including last night
at the dour Coakley election gathering at the Copley Sheraton.
Selling Brown—a wealthy lawyer who has held political office
for the past 18 years—as the champion of that populist,
anti-politician cause may seem a stretch, but again, his
strategists were the people responsible for the packaging
and marketing of Willard Mitt Romney.
They did their job with Brown brilliantly, turning the well-to-do
political hack suburbanite into a pickup- driving man of
the people. And Brown, like Romney, is an outstanding candidate:
disciplined, hard-working, and malleable.
The team was also prepared, from the training of the presidential
campaign, to rapidly turn everything the Coakley campaign
did to their advantage—and the campaign repeatedly played
right into their hands.
When she failed to actively barnstorm the state—and later,
when she derided the notion of shaking voters’ hands in
front of Fenway Park—they painted her as arrogant and out-of-touch.
When she launched the campaign’s first negative ad, they
called her out for playing the politics of destruction.
When she went to Washington to raise money, they labeled
her a tool of the lobbyists and special interests. When
she called in the help of prominent local and national Democrats,
they called it machine politics. (Those insisting that Michael
Capuano would have beaten Brown handily should consider
how easy it would have been to caricature him as an insider,
backroom, Democratic-machine, professional pol.)
By keeping the focus firmly on these symbols of dark politics,
the Brown campaign defined the race around mood, rather
Although the national audience, and the core supporters
packing the Park Plaza ballroom, care deeply about the issues,
Brown nimbly straddled them in the campaign, to avoid alienating
any potential mood voters (again, not unlike Obama).
He was against overturning Roe v. Wade, but for any pro-life
law that might actually come before him in a Senate vote.
He vowed to vote against the current health-care-reform
bill, but professed support for legislating universal coverage.
He demanded a reduction in the national deficit, but offered
no cost-reduction plans. He opposed whatever economy-boosting
measures the Obama administration has taken, but proposed
none of his own other than an across-the-board tax cut that
nobody believes would ever be seriously considered. (He
took an unequivocal stand on just one issue, a Bush/Cheney
approach to terrorism, including escalation of the war in
Afghanistan, denial of rights to detainees, and use of torture,
including waterboarding. I would guess that their polling
showed Coakley was vulnerable on this front.)
Coakley’s team, just like Clinton’s in Iowa, never saw this
strategy coming until too late. Neither did the Democratic
operatives who were denigrating the Coakley team yesterday—even
as they tried to pull her lifeless campaign over the finish
I didn’t see it coming, either; I would never have believed
that turnout would exceed 50 percent on a miserable, wet
day in January. But in retrospect, the strategy was all
there right from the beginning, laid out in the announcement
speech he made four months ago.
In that speech, Brown declared himself independent of “the
special interests [and] the Beacon Hill establishment”;
called himself “a political outsider . . . not part of the
Beacon Hill insider club”; denounced “Washington politicians
who think they know better than us what’s good for Massachusetts”;
promised not to take orders from “the Washington insiders,
or from Harry Reid, or Deval Patrick”; and warned that “power
concentrated in the hands of one political party, as it
is here in Massachusetts, leads to bad government and poor
Brown diligently took that message across the state in his
iconic pick-up truck, to towns and audiences that any seasoned
pollster would declare a waste of time and gasoline. People
said the same thing about Obama reaching out to twentysomethings
and independents in Iowa.
And his message barely changed from that speech to the one
he delivered in victory at the Park Plaza. Both included
his signature line: “This Senate seat doesn’t belong to
any one person, or political party.” It is the people’s
seat, as the projected backdrop behind him on the Park Plaza
stage read. Meanwhile, over at the Sheraton, that lesson
had not yet sunk in; people there were already talking about
which Democrat will retake the Senate seat when it comes
back up for a vote in 2012.
published by thePhoenix.com. For more coverage of the Brown/Coakley
race, go to David S. Bernstein’s “Talking Politics” blog,
However, just as Brown’s 1980s naked spread in Cosmopolitan
magazine has gone viral with the left-wing blogs, so
has his reputation as a candidate of the Tea Party. And
the Tea Party movement is happy to have him. Which is a
surprisingly shrewd move, considering that the movement
was supposedly born out of a righteous fury after a series
of government bailouts among marginalized real conservatives.
The kind of fiscal and moral conservative stalwarts who,
by their accounts, had been left adrift by the GOP since
the days of Bush Sr. and had lost faith in both parties.
Tea Party people showed that they can compromise. Sure,
Scott Brown is more liberal than Dede Scozzafava [Republican
assemblywoman and failed Congressional candidate in New
York’s 23rd District],” says Kevin McCashion, a local Tea
Party organizer and coordinator of the Sons of Liberty,
an ad hoc conservative group until recently known as the
Campaign for Liberty. “But the benefits outweighed the drawbacks
insofar as they view him as the opposition to the filibuster-proof
health care. Whether that is going to happen or not, who
This is what Brown was, a compromise who could win. And
it was a win that Tea Partiers saw as vital on a number
of fronts, including in their efforts to stop President
Obama’s health-care reform. But possibly more important,
Brown’s win was a chance to get a candidate elected who
had adopted their “transpartisan” rhetoric.
that’s why you didn’t see the Republican logo anywhere on
his Web site, or on his literature, and people noticed that,”
Roughly 30 to 40 Tea Partiers traveled from the Capital
Region to Massachusetts Tuesday to rally support for Brown.
They gathered afterward at Tess’ Lark Tavern in Albany to
watch the results that they believe send a powerful message
to Washington: Even a state that the Democrats believed
was theirs to control is vulnerable.
want to believe, whether or not they are as familiar with
the record as they ought to be. But definitely the passion
and the energy is there,” McCashion says. “We are talking
about people who weren’t involved in anything politically
a year ago now doing multiple meetings multiple days of
the week. Traveling three hours to go run around and help
a campaign. Is the Republican establishment going to absorb
the Tea Party movement? Or is the Tea Party going to co-opt
the establishment? It’s still up in the air.”
As an organizer, McCashion can’t get too caught up on those
details. He has his eyes set on upcoming elections, and
he is working to keep the energy among his troops up: “The
20th is going to be the point of attack for us.”