The Green Papers
The Green Papers

Things to watch for re: the upcoming
Special U.S. Senate election in the Bay State

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson Staff
Sun 17 Jan 2010

Much of the time, if not even most of the time, Special Elections for the United States Senate generally produce something of a yawn- even for inveterate political junkies such as myself:

A Special Election is more usually necessitated by a United States Senator having resigned to take some other office- perhaps a Cabinet post, a Federal or State judgeship, maybe (as seems to have been more common of late than in recent years) having been elected Governor of his or her State (mostly, however, Governor is still considered- in many a corner of the Wide, Wacky, yet Wonderful World of American Political Punditry- something of a "demotion" from having already been a member of what is often described as "the world's most exclusive Club"); often, and sadly (as is the case in Massachusetts), it is due to the death of a member of that very Club.

In those States where the Governor is permitted, by State law, to name a temporary appointment (and where the Governor happens to be of the same Party as the so recently departed Senator [whether departed in either sense of the term!]), the appointee is almost always of the same Party as the Senator who has vacated the seat and, in most such cases, the appointee (assuming he or she wishes to- or, rather, is, truth be told, allowed to by his Party!) is rather routinely subsequently so Specially Elected to serve out the rest of the unexpired term-- in most other cases, the appointee is merely a proverbial "seat warmer"- that is, holding the seat until (or so it is hoped by that appointee's own Party) another, more well known (at least Statewide), political personage of that same Party can later be chosen in the ensuing Special Election to replace said "seat warmer", thereby keeping the Senate seat on the given Party's side.

Once in a while, yes, there might well be a noticeably contentious Special Election- such as one along the lines of, say, that- back in 2002- in which a Jean Carnahan, having been appointed to replace her late husband who was posthumously elected to a full six-year term in the Senate, was unseated by a Jim Talent in the midst of an even more contentious Midterm Election, the first to follow the altogether contentious 2000 Presidential Election; or the very circumstances under which the seat has been vacated might end up producing more than usual interest in who might be elected as a successor: for instance, the Special Election in Oregon back in the Spring of 1996 which saw Ron Wyden best Gordon Smith (who ended up being elected to serve in Oregon's other Senate seat soon thereafter anyway), thereby producing a Party switch in the Senate in the wake of Senator Bob Packwood having had to resign as a result of scandalous personal behavior.

Most of the time, however, very few outside the State in which the Special Election for a United States Senate seat is being held all that much really care about such a thing; and, all too often, it is rather hard to find people who care even within the State in question!

The Special Election scheduled for this coming Tuesday (19 January) in Massachusetts, by contrast, is shaping up to be a far different electoral and political animal!

Part of the reason- aside from the slings and arrows, storms and higher-than-usual seas, of the current national political climate (galvanized by the battle over Health Care)- is the very nature of the family that once, virtually dynastically (where not also regally), held this seat: this, of course, being the Kennedys. Not only has the Class 1 U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts been a Democratic Party seat since Noon Eastern Time on 3 January 1953 (which is even before *I* was born!), it has also been a Kennedy seat during all that time: held first by future President John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy and, then (except for the rather brief "seat warming" by the quintessential seatwarmer, appointee Ben Smith II), long held by JFK's brother, the late Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy.

Think about it! Elizabeth II has been Queen of England less than a year longer than a Kennedy has (for all practical purposes: Mr. Smith- as well as the current incumbent, appointee Paul Kirk- having gone to Washington notwithstanding) been the person entitled to sit in that Senate seat by virtue of election!!

Another part of the reason for all the interest in this Special Election generated nationally is the fact that no Republican has represented Ye Olde Commonwealth in the United States Senate, in either of the Bay State's seats therein, since Edward Brooke (having been defeated by the late Paul Tsongas in the immediately preceding General Election) ended his service in that body at Noon of 3 January 1979; Tsongas himself was succeeded by fellow Democrat John Kerry six years later and Kerry still so serves, though now as Massachusetts' senior Senator. Simply put: 31-plus years is, indeed, a long time for the GOP to not have put someone in the upper house of Congress from a State which, while heavily- and very reliably- Democratic, has- nevertheless- managed to elect a number of Republican Governors over that same timespan!

But, of course, the major reason for the ever-increasing interest in this particular Special Election is purest Politics: for the Republicans smell Democratic blood in the political waters and are now beginning to circle, hoping for a particularly tasty meal... and the results of the 2008 Elections (despite recent victories, as regards the Governor's Chairs in two States) have only served to have made the GOP awfully hungry!

Under normal circumstances- at least given the "political tea leaves" of more recent vintage- one would have expected this Special Election to be the proverbial "slam dunk" for the Democratic candidate, the Commonwealth's Attorney General Martha Coakley. As a candidate who can- by virtue of her own current office and earlier career (she was an elected prosecutor in Middlesex County, Mass. prior to becoming the Commonwealth's top Law Enforcement official)- well appeal to the "law and order" crowd that is, far more usually (and in most other States), fairer game for Republicans. By contrast, her main opponent, Scott Brown, is a comparatively little known State Senator whom Ms. Coakley should be "eating for breakfast" politically; the only other person in the race of note is an even more little known Independent with libertarian so-called "tea bagger" credentials who might be expected to peel at least a few votes that would otherwise go towards Brown, as opposed to Coakley, thus aiding the Commonwealth's Attorney General's Senatorial ambitions even moreso...

but that is not how this race seems to be shaping up in its final hours!

I will here leave an analysis of precisely why the Special Election might have turned out the way it will eventually turn out, once the votes cast this coming Tuesday are actually counted and tabulated, for a later Commentary of mine to be written after we all already know the results... for now, I will only make the following observations, ones that can fairly be made before we can possibly know the actual outcome:

Very simply, if Scott Brown is, in the end, elected the next U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, it is, indeed, noteworthy and not only because he would become the first Republican in nearly six decades to hold the seat as well as the first GOP Senator from the Bay State at all in over half that amount that time. It will be noteworthy as a distinct slap against the Obama Administration from a State that would otherwise be expected to more fully be behind the Administration's own policies. Now, this does not at all mean that the national GOP necessarily benefits (though, as has already been the case as regards the election, as Governor of my own State of New Jersey, of Chris Christie- who, interestingly, will be sworn into office on the very day of the Special Election to the northeast- the national Republicans will surely do so [despite the national Party's all too evident continuing efforts to throw more than a few northeastern- that is, more moderate- Republicans under the proverbial "bus" heading into this year's Midterm Elections and, presumably, the 2012 Presidential Election beyond]): after all, until Brown's recent surge in the polls in Massachusetts, one was left to fairly wonder if the national Republican Party US was the least bit aware there even was a Special Election being held this week!... which makes all the "piling on" by major GOP figures, as they now pontificate on Sunday morning national television about what this Special Election is "really" all about, more than a little disingenuous...

nonetheless, and most simply put, a Scott Brown victory is a "black eye" for the Democratic Party nationally-- just don't then make such a thing out to be a mortal wound for the Dems of 2010!

As for a potential Martha Coakley victory (which would be otherwise historic- for she would, thereby, become the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts): anything short of significance is pyrrhic at best. No, she does not have to gain "Kennedyesque" supermajorities (that would've been unlikely in any event), but she does have to win decisively (say, mid-to-upper 50s, perhaps pushing the 60 percent mark) in order to have at least somewhat damped- where it might not also dampen (as in "raining on the GOP's parade"), though it is already too late to outright quash- the potential ensuing political questions that will otherwise swirl, not about the Bay State's Class 1 seat in the Senate chamber itself, but- rather- the White House!

As I type this, however, it looks like it'll be either a Brown win (and the margin of victory therein will actually make little difference as regards the overall analysis from the national political perspective) or a Coakley "squeaker"-- and either of these possible scenarios is bad political news for President Obama (though he would, obviously, take a Coakley win any way he might get it) on the very cusp of his first anniversary in office.

Meanwhile: I will, almost certainly, be telling all of you reading this piece exactly why it is so bad for the President on this website later on this very week... but let's see who wins the seat first!

Modified .