Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Massachusetts Gubernatorial Election

The election match-up is set, and, for the conservatives and Republicans in the state, it's either the worst-case scenario, or the best. It's hard to tell, at the moment.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is obviously one of the most heavily democratic states in the country. In the state's congressional 11-member congressional delegation, there are 11 Democrats, 0 Republicans. The state legislature, both the house and the senate, are controlled by the Democrats with veto-proof majorities. Democratic presidential candidates routinely take over 60% of the two-party vote, with the Republicans less than 40%.

In other words, it's hard to imagine a more hostile environment for Republicans. Yet somehow, for some reason, the Republicans have held the Governorship in Massachusetts for the last 16 years, winning the last 4 elections. Each of those had their own quirks and characteristics, but demographically speaking, they've each been somewhat of a fluke.

1990: Bill Weld vs. John Silber. Silber, the President of BU and the Democratic candidate, was actually the more conservative, or at least perceived as being the more conservative, of the two. Weld, the former US Attorney, was a libertarian-leaning Republican who promised to re-introduce prison inmates to "the joys of busting rock." (If any rock was actually busted, I'm not aware of it, but it was good, and very popular, rhetoric.) Coming off of the Dukakis presidential candidacy of 1988 and the ending of the "Massachusetts miracle," it was probably the best possible environment for a Republican, and was still anyone's race before Silber, who had a tendency to come across disagreeably on television (a sharp contrast to Weld), got testy with a popular Boston female news anchor. Weld ended up winning the race by 4 points, 52-48, in what was the best possible environment for a Massachusetts Republican.

1994: Weld, who was a popular governor during his first term, was faced with an unknown, seriously underfunded legislator, outspent him significantly, and won re-election easily.

1998: Weld had stepped down after running against, and losing to, John Kerry for the US Senate in 1996. So, once again, it was an incumbent Republican, Paul Cellucci, against another Democrat who was not a likeable candidate. Cellucci carried some of the Weld glow, tarnished though it was, and was obviously not a particularly conservative Republican. He had been a former member of the Massachusetts legislature, was an "insider" and didn't arouse the kind of emotional reactions that made the Democrats feel that it was necessary to get rid of him. All of that enabled him to hold the corner office for the Republicans.

2002: Acting Governor Jane Swift, who had taken the office when Cellucci resigned on being appointed Ambassador to Canada by George Bush, was a disaster. There's absolutely no way on God's earth she'd have been able to hold the office against any imaginable Democrat. Fortunately for the Republicans, Mitt Romney came back from fixing the Salt Lake City Olympics and decided to run. Swift, recognizing that she'd be lucky to take 20% in the primary, withdrew from the race. With Romney, the Republicans had an extremely attractive candidate, who already had generated good feelings in the citizenry, having run a challenge against Ted Kennedy 8 years earlier, but never having gone negative. Romney was/is tall, good-looking, accomplished, well-spoken, obviously intelligent, and non-threatening. He was virtually a dream candidate for the Republicans in Massachusetts. He ran against another Democratic insider, State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien, and, in a state slightly less liberal than Massachusetts, it wouldn't have been competitive. Massachusetts being what it is, Romney took 50% of the vote to O'Brien's 45%.

Romney has chosen not to run for re-election this year. He would, I think, be re-elected if he ran, but he's chosen not to. He hasn't officially declared yet, but he's obviously gearing up for a White House run in 2008. (My personal opinion - he's far and away the best potential candidate for the Republicans, and if I had to bet, I think he's the most-likely person to be the next President of the United States.) The Republican candidate, in a Romney-less election, is going to be Romney's Lieutenant Governor, Kerry Healey. Healey is probably the best choice that the Republicans have at the moment. She has name recognition, as Romney's spent a lot of time out of state for the past year. She's an attractive candidate, she's a woman, so she can't be slandered as misogynists by the usual suspects on the left. She's not Romney, but she's probably the best the Republicans could have hoped for without him.

The Democratic primary featured 3 candidates. The worst potential Governor from a Republican point-of-view, was Deval Patrick. Patrick won yesterday. The reason that it may be the best-case scenario for the Republicans, as opposed to the worst-case, is that he may be more beatable by Healey than the other candidates. Certainly, I think it very likely that Chris Gabrieli would have run stronger against Healey than Patrick. Patrick is clearly the furthest left of the candidates, and ended up taking 50% in a 3-way race in the Democratic primary. The issue is, how much of the Reilly and Gabrieli vote is actually closer to Healey than Patrick? We don't know yet.

What we do know is that Patrick has many positions that even the Democrats in Massachusetts don't like. He's in favor of giving in-state tuition and drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. Neither of those is a majority position. There's no question, it's not even open to debate, that taxes in Massachusetts are likely to go up more and faster under Patrick than under Healey. I am of the belief, on September 20, that Patrick is very susceptible to attack, and there's an opportunity, a possibility, that the Republicans can, in fact, keep the corner office for another 4 years. I'd put it at 50-50 right now, not having seen any polling data yet.

One of the things that is the strongest argument for the Republicans to use is the "legislative restraint" argument. Like everywhere else in the world, Massachusetts voters like their own legislators, but recognize the tendencies of the legislature as a whole. There are many legislative excesses that have been curbed by having a Republican Governor for the past 16 years. That is one of the strongest arguments that the Republicans can make as we enter the last 6 weeks of this campaign...

Technorati tags: Romney, Healey, Massachusetts, Governor, Patrick, Deval



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