Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Longest Shot

Following up on this suggestion from Ace and Bill Kristol and an correspondent of Kristol, it really does seem like the Republican challenger for Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat, state senator Scott Brown, might stand to gain a lot if he runs as the anti-Obamacare candidate. If Brown were to win, he could become the 41st vote to stop Obamacare. Since, as Kristol notes, the Senate would not be able to vote on the final version of Obamacare after the MA special election on January 19th, Brown's election could be a pivotal turning point. Opponents of Obamacare might find a very high rate of return in investing time and money in Brown. Kristol's email correspondent suggests that the GOP should have "certain Senatorial election committee to pay attention to the race or send money or have actual prominent Republican types come to the state to campaign for the very telegenic State Sen. Scott Brown." All good suggestions. The odds of succeeding may be slimmish, but the benefits of success would be huge.

Moreover, it would be so much in Brown's favor to run as the anti-Obamacare candidate. What his campaign needs the most is oxygen. After all, consider this narrative: Republican reformer, who has won elections in a Democrat-friendly district, takes on an ossified Democratic machine headed by a wildly unpopular Democratic governor. In a low turnout election, the intensity of opposition to an increasingly unpopular president's plans could help tip the scale in his favor. This narrative of success could become a reality, if Brown can make this election more than a ho-hum, off-year, predetermined Democratic "safe seat" faux-contest. Running under the radar will not help his campaign.

Instead, he needs to make it a newsworthy campaign. Independents are a key voting block for either party in Massachusetts, but they are especially crucial for a Republican. Brown needs to get their attention, whip up Republican support, and persuade skeptical Democrats that things in the Capitol have gone too far. Health-care is a perfect issue to pull the spotlight in Brown's direction. With independent support for Obamacare sinking lower and lower, health-care could be a catalyzing issue. This attention could provide Brown with much-needed donations and publicity.

The public polls have been few and far between for this election, an indication of how "safe" many firms view this contest. But there are some interesting ancillary numbers. The current Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, who was resoundingly elected in 2006, has had a collapse in his approval rating. His approval numbers now stand in the mid-30's (if not in the teens). Independent disapproval of Obama in places like California and Oregon is in the mid-40's and climbing towards 50%. In New York, hardly a bastion of rock-ribbed conservatives, 53% of independents now disapprove of Obama. So states that have been friendly to Obama are witnessing a crumbling of support, especially among independents. There are no polls that I can find asking Massachusetts voters about Obamacare, but, based on national polls (which show a clear majority disapproving of the Democrats' current flavor of health-care reform), one would not be surprised to find a significant level of opposition. Massachusetts can elect Republicans for statewide offices (they elected GOP governors for four terms in a row), and, in special elections, they have come very close in the recent past to picking up Congressional seats (Republican Jim Ogonowski ran 45-51 against Democrat Niki Tsongas for Marty Meehan's House seat in 2007).

By making his senatorial campaign a national one, Brown could transform the playing field into one that favors him. Portraying himself as the de facto last hope for a brake on Obamacare could make good political and electoral sense for Brown. The growing resentment at a Congressional majority bent on forcing through ever-more unpopular legislation could catapult Brown to the Senate chamber. The road to victory for Brown could begin with stepping up to the podium and saying, "I'm Scott Brown, and I'm here to save your health-care."

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