See also Today's Letter: MIT Graduate Reader Says Race (Etc.), Not Income, Determined MA Vote
Scott Brown's stunning victory over Martha Coakley is filled with national implications. Of course, what makes his win so dramatic is that Massachusetts is one of the bluest states in the country. Brown underlined this in his victory speech when he said "When there's trouble in Massachusetts, rest assured, there's trouble everywhere, and they know it."
Democrats control Massachusetts' entire Congressional delegation and Obama won the state with a 26% margin in 2008. That a Republican can now win a statewide election by over five points is truly remarkable.
But if the GOP is to learn any lessons about this election, they need to look at what really makes Massachusetts different.
Massachusetts is blue—but it is also still White. According to Census estimates, 79.2% of the population is White, 8.6% is Hispanic, 7% is Black, and 5% are Asian. In 2008 exit polls, Blacks made up 9% of the electorate (probably disproportionately high because of the Obama effect), whites made up 82% and Hispanics and Asians both made up 3%.
While no one took exit polls on Tuesday night, it is a very safe bet to assume that Whites made up an even greater percentage of the electorate this election than they did in 2008. Brown won by getting huge numbers of white independents and white Democrats to shift the GOP.
William F. Buckley famously quipped that he would rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book than by the 2000 members of the faculty of Harvard University. But even the random white names in the Boston phone book would normally have voted Democratic. In 2008, Barack Obama won 59% of the white vote in Massachusetts and John Kerry won 64% to retain his senate seat. In contrast, only 43% of whites nationwide voted for Obama.
However, aside from the Harvard professors, most of the white Democrats in Massachusetts are not liberals who are tied to the party out of ideology. Rather, they are Irish ethnics and union members wedded to the Democratic machine for cultural reasons. These people were rioting when blacks were bussed into their schools, but they still voted for Ted Kennedy.
Republicans will never win the Harvard professors over. But they can win over the white ethnics and Union members, as Reagan and Nixon did in their landslide reelections. Scott Brown did an outstanding job appealing to this demographic. His campaign became synonymous with his GMC Canyon pickup with 200,000 miles on the odometer. As Peggy Noonan noted, "He is a regular guy, looks like an American."
Coakley made it clear she was with the Harvard professors, not the phone book, when she insulted Brown for shaking hands outside Fenway Park, called Red Sox hero and Brown supporter Curt Schilling a "Yankee Fan," and said that the American people were wrong on Health Care.
But as much as the national Democrats want to put all the blame on Coakley, Brown would not have been able to win were it not for the enormous unpopularity among Barack Obama among whites. And we cannot forget that Obama's fall from grace among whites began when he sided with black Harvard Professor Henry Gates against Irish-American Cambridge Cop James Crowley.
On July 22, when Barack Obama's approval ratings among whites was still well above 50%, he said Crowley "acted stupidly" in arresting black Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates for disorderly conduct and suggested that racial profiling was involved.
Only 20% of whites believed Obama's comments on the incident were appropriate and his approval ratings immediately plummeted among them.
Obama has not held a press conference since.
Brown made absolutely no comments on Gatesgate or any other racial issues. But MSNBC mudslinger Keith Olbermann still called him a "racist" and "reactionary" because he accepted support from the Tea Party movement, which Olbermann is "the saddest collection of people who don't want to admit why they really hate since the racists of the South in the sixties insisted they were really just concerned about states' rights." [Olbermann: Scott Brown's A 'Homophobic, Racist, Teabagging Supporter of Violence Against Women', NewBusters.com, January 18, 2010]
Olbermann's comments actually have an indirect relationship with the truth. With the Democratic nomination in 2008 between a black man and a white female and then Barack Obama appointing that woman as Secretary of State, an African American as Attorney General, and a Hispanic Woman as his first Supreme Court Justice, white men are legitimately concerned.
As Donny Deutsch said, appearing on the same TV show as Peggy Noonan:
"[Brown] is a traditional looking middle-aged white male. We're going back to basics. You know, we obviously have our first African-American president, we've had the female candidates and what not. You look at him, he looks like the candidate, the traditional view of the candidate."
No doubt some voters were indeed happy to go "back to basics" with Brown.
Furthermore, there is an unspoken but obvious racial dimension aspect to Obamacare: it is not just an increase of government power and spending—it is also a transfer of that spending from whites (who are the main benefactors of Medicare benefits that will be cut; and of course the bulk of taxpayers) to minorities (who make up over half of the uninsured.)
As the white share of the population of the country continues to decline, there is only one way for the Republicans to get back into to power: to win the James Crowley vote in Massachusetts.
And while voters may have told pollsters that health care was the number one issue in this campaign, Republicans should not think that parroting the Club for Growth talking points is going to be a consistent winner among this demographic. While these people opposed Obamacare, they also oppose free trade and support tougher regulations on Wall Street.
There are two issues that James Crowley voters are most at odds with the Democratic Party: immigration and affirmative action. Scott Brown did not mention affirmative action. He took a pretty strong position against illegal immigration in his platform, but did not make it a campaign issue (although he seems to have used it in his push-polling).
Martha Coakley's weakness and public opposition to Obama made it possible for Brown to win by making populist appeals with free market economics. But this will not work in every election.
"Washington Watcher" [email him] is an anonymous source Inside The Beltway.