Scott Brown’s victory is an enormous opportunity – for the Democrats.
That is if we repeat the mistakes of the past in interpreting a “change” election.
There is no doubt that President Obama and Democratic over-reaching on stimulus and health care – to no immediate effect – fueled the Brown momentum in Massachusetts. They know that and after they get through finger-pointing and in-fighting, they will do some serious soul-searching in the wake of Brown’s election much like we did after November 2008.
Republicans meanwhile appear to be reacting to Brown’s win by puffing up our chests and assuming that we will win every place we play.
However, more than anything, voters in Massachusetts – as in states around the country – are fed up with government. The have no faith in the current leadership of both parties for good reason.
Neil Newhouse, the pollster for the Brown campaign, posted a summary of the verbatims from Massachusetts voters during the last two weeks of the race. “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore,” “Washington isn’t listening to us,” and “Don’t take my vote for granted.”
I worked with Neil on a race in 2006, and these were nearly word-for-word the verbatims we were hearing then. Voter dissatisfaction has nothing to do with party: the reason a plurality of independents voted for Obama in states like Virginia and Massachusetts, but voted to reject the status quo by voting for a Republican in November 2009 and yesterday.
Gauging the overall reaction to Scott Brown’s victory returns bold statements about a Republican sweep in 2010, and the expectation that new candidates will materialize to challenge entrenched Democrats across the country. The theme “If Democrats Can Lose Massachusetts, They Can Win Anywhere” is taking off along with its sunnier twin, “If Republicans Can Win in Massachusetts, They Can Win Anywhere.
We can, and we will probably sail to victory in some races. Yet, in the same way that an over-confident, arrogant Martha Coakley saw the race slip from her hands, like Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary, it’s quite possible that several Republicans could suffer the same fate if we misinterpret the Brown win.
Failure to step back from a health care bill proven enormously unpopular. Failure to utilize new, effective tools and tactics for reaching voters like social media and online advertising. Failure to hold frequent townhalls, forums or events whereby a conversation takes place between candidate and citizens.
These failures are all hairline fractures caused by the same injury: arrogance. It’s so last year to criticize Republicans for aloofness, but it will be so this year if we don’t take a measured response to Brown’s victory.