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Massachusetts Special Election Results: Coakley or Brown?

Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 20, 2010; 8:30 AM

Post staff writer Karl Vick takes your questions about the Massachusetts special election between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown to replace Teddy Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.

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Karl Vick: Good morning from Beantown, and apologies for the late start. The town was up late and so was I, but here we all are.

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Detroit, Mich.: If this had been any other state, say Florida, Michigan, Indiana, I dont think this would be such a big deal. Even when Democrats lost Virginia, it wasnt cataclysmic, since that state had been trending purple. The difference is Massachusetts is unquestionably the most liberal state in the nation, a state that just last year gave President Obama a 25 point victory. Sure Coakley ran an awful campaign, but people also knew Scott Brown - after all he had been a State Senator, one who was pretty well known for being far more conservative than John McCain. Dont you think this was a referendum on Washington and the President's agenda?

Karl Vick: I hear you on that, though I reckon if Florida or Michigan or Indiana produced the election that deprived Democrats of their 60th vote, and thus imperiled the health reform bill, we'd all be paying attention pretty closely.

And Massachusetts certainly has been a reliably blue state in recent years during presidential contests. But Ronald Reagan carried it, twice, I believe. Brown likely carried a lot of Reagan Democrats yesterday, including union guys who on the individual level did not like the health bill, for whatever reason. They might have turned out for Teddy, but all this happened of course because Teddy is gone.

So, yes, on the referendum. But a lot of voters weren't happy with Beacon Hill either, which is even more of a one-party legislature than this Congress.

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Please explain: 15 months ago the idea of 57 Democratic Senators seemed like the most wildly optimistic and (check The Fix) improbable outcome for the 2008 election. Today, 59 Senators is a disaster?

Karl Vick: Good point. It was indeed such an improbable number, 60, at one point. I remember being in Oregon as Jeff Merkley, an earnest, policy-driven Democratic state legislator at the time, was trying to take the seat of Gordon Smith. He ended up riding the Obama wave, which of course owed a great deal to the apparent collapse of the financial system.

And then of course the Minnesota nailbiter-cum-court-saga that put the number "60" on Al Franken's back. The stars aligned. For a while.

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New York, NY: But the people of Massachusetts have universal health care, right? Seems like a tragically selfish vote, to me.

Karl Vick: They do.

Brown's stump speech made note of this, and used it as a justification to oppose the emerging Democratic plan. He argued that Massachusetts didn't need it, and would end up paying to give other states the coverage its citizens already had. He argued against a "one-size-fits-all" approach and said congress should fashion legislation that lets states fashion their own systems.

That was the logic. But the part of his speeches that resonated with voters expressed disgust with the process: "the back room deals," "lack of transparency" and so on.

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Mass is not as true blue as you think: This is one Mass Democrat who voted for Obama and Coakley (holding my nose) but also voted for Republican Mitt Romney for Governor as a check on the Democrat controlled state legislature. While Coakley was an awful candidate and I share some of the frustrations about Obama and Congressional Dems, I support healthcare reform and Obama's foreign policy and there was no way I was voting for Scott Brown given his "independent" (?!) 96% voting record with Republicans and their policy positions. And remember, over half the electorate is independent.

Karl Vick: Thanks for the post. Though of course "independent" takes in the whole spectrum, in the end, including die-hard party activists who simply want to the option to vote in all primaries.

The technical term "unenrolled" may capture more.

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Chuck Todd just said on his show..: .. It was those blue collars with an independent streak who handed Scott Brown his victory yesterday.

Really? Was it the tyranny of the blue collar class who returned Ted Kennedy to office term after term?

Just a bunch of greased finger worker types up there in the Bay State? Is this how Washington media darlings characterize folks they either don't understand, don't agree with, or just plain don't like?

Too disgusting. Too wrong. Too Washington.

Karl Vick: Come to the Commonwealth! Very nice here, and people just love to talk politics....

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Kettering OH: Good morning Karl! Top of the morning to you.

I have read this morning a few comments from the administration that they are interpreting the Mass result to mean they must work harder to pass their sacred health care reform, rather than dialing it back. This is sort of like meaning you need to lean a little closer into a Mike Tyson punch. Is it possible for the Obama team to get religion from this rebuke from the bluest of blues and maybe try to get a new version right instead of bowing to their progressive teammates?

Karl Vick: I dunno, Kettering, but your question allows me to quote a handmade sign a man held aloft on the floor of the ballroom last night:

WA

Was That

LOUD

Enough?

It was written in brown.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Can we view this as an indicator that RomneyCare is a success? Is mandatory healthcare insurance purchase (at the state level) around the corner?

Karl Vick: Not sure conclusions can be drawn. I'm relatively new here and haven't looked closely at it, but even in passing it's clear that Massachusetts' universal coverage has not corralled costs.

But the very fact that Brown did not use it as a warning against the federal plan must speak to some level of satisfaction, no?

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Belfast, ME: Electoral politics have always been cyclical. Have the cycles now compressed to the point that we'll be swinging back and forth with every election? Are voters now going to the polls with the general sense that things were better once upon a time so let's keep trying someone new?

Karl Vick: One can see how it might feel like that. I will say that one sense I got -- hanging out at Brown rallies over the last week, and just talking to folks -- is that his campaign managed to channel a good bit of the current that Obama rode into office: An appeal for decency and comity in politics, which particularly appealed to self-described independents.

There was much more going on here than that -- a desire to check and balance Democratic power, deep concerns about the deficit, maybe some sense that things are moving way too fast for a lot of people -- but rather than being whipped back and forth in ever-faster cycles, it felt more to me like the main channel of this is something that's been running for a while, and deeply.

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Can you ever see the day? : I don't begrudge Scott Brown for this, but can you ever see the day when a woman who was a nude centerfold/stripper type can be elected to the U.S. Senate.

Karl Vick: Hasn't it happened in Italy?

Your question goes to questions both profound and delightful.

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Brookline, MA: Re: New York.

There's the rub. Yes, we pay slightly more in taxes (somewhere in the middle of all states), but we have better education, better health care, better job creation, better mental health, lower crime and higher wealth than almost every other state in the Union. We already had Universal Health Care, we don't get into people's private lives and we are the state (maybe CT) that most subsidizes the Federal Gov to support all of the unproductive Red States out there.

Scott hit a point that is very pure Republican philosophy, but kind of strikes you in these times "We have ours, screw them!"

Karl Vick: Thanks for that view from Brookline, a storied constituency that stayed true blue yesterday, I believe.

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Concord, MA: What are the chances Scott will legislate as an Independent as opposed to a "NO" Republican?

Given he is up for reelection in 3 yrs, this is MASS and most of the conventional wisdom says this was an election for change in D.C.

Thanks.

Karl Vick: I guess I'd be surprised if he steered a course independent of the party, though on his record he'd likely qualify as a moderate Republican, if only for saying as he does that he recognizes Roe v. Wade is the law (his take on abortion also evokes Obama's, lamenting that it comes to that and urging alternatives).

His acceptance speech certainly sounded like a rallying cry for Republicans as oppostion:

"Across this country, we are united by basic convictions that need only to be clearly stated to win a majority. If anyone still doubts that, in the election season just beginning, let them look to Massachusetts. Fellow citizens, what happened in this election can happen all over America."

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Poplar Bluff, MO: The GOP establishment and the talking heads on tv were very supportive of Senator-elect Brown's candidacy. However, he is pro-choice and voted for universal health care in the Massachusetts Senate. Why did the "Tea Bagger" portion of the electorate support him while the Republican candidates, who are much more conservative than Brown, are having trouble from the Right? Thank you.

Karl Vick: Brown did enjoy the support of Tea Party activists, and attended their rallies earlier in the campaign. I haven't spent enough time myself with these groups to offer first-hand assessments of anyone's temperament, but in the last couple of weeks of the campaign Browns' following ballooned to include a lot of people who did not seem to be so much angry as disappointed, and who harked to the optimism and good cheer he expressed. He was happy to gather the protest votes but much of his appeal was an upbeat, can-do quality, and how comfortable he clearly is in his own skin.

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Brown did not use it as a warning against the federal plan must speak to some level of satisfaction,: Actually if you believe satisfaction polls, the MA plan has about an 80% approval. Ironic, since the MA plan is very similar to the bill now taking shape in Congress.

Karl Vick: And the Suffolk University poll taken a week or so ago showed 51 percent of likely voters oppose the Washington bill.

Clearly what we have here is a failure to communicate.

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Middleton, Wisc.: The most surprising thing about this election from out here was the assumption by Coakley and lots of other Dems that the seat was theirs for the taking because Kennedy had held it for so long. What silliness! Kennedy won a lot of voters because of who he was personally and what he did--not simply because he was a Democrat. And it's not like MA elects only Democrats--the crowing by Mitt Romney I unfortunately awoke to this morning reminded me of that.

Karl Vick: Teddy also had a charisma, extraordinary political skills and the status of paterfamilias, guardian of a legacy, all that.

Interesting that Brown's campaign consultant thinks the turning point in the campaign was his "JFK ad," in which President Kennedy kind of morphs into Scott Brown.

Martha Coakely had some physical resemblance to the Kennedy's, but that was truly audacious. As I said to the candidate, you can't see it in the centerfold but the guy's got balls.

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Karl Vick: On that ribald note, I've got to hit the bricks. Thanks for tuning in, and remember to set your home page...

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