January 18, 2010

Behind the Numbers: Dems Lose in MA

Tomorrow, voters in Massachusetts go to the polls to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Edward "Teddy" Kennedy. Yet the next junior senator from Massachusetts will likely not share the late Kennedy's passion and sense of urgency for overhauling the American health care system. Republican State Senator Scott Brown leads Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) in all major polls.

But even if Coakley pulls off an upset tomorrow, the Democrats still lose. The very fact that a major Democratic figure is now the underdog in a statewide race in one of our most reliably blue states spells peril for President Obama and his party. Making this a tightly contested campaign is a major victory for the Republicans.

Today, Public Policy Polling released it's final tracking poll before tomorrow's election. Surveying roughly 1,200 likely voters, PPP found Brown leading 51 percent to 46 percent (MoE 2.8 percent). Coakley wins Democrats (77 to 19); loses Republicans (90 to 8); and loses independents (64 to 32). 89 percent of Republicans are "very excited" about the election, compared to 63 percent of Democrats. Coakley wins liberals but loses conservatives and moderates (55 to 44).

The closest polling over the last few days comes from Daily Kos / Research2000, which shows the race tied at 48 percent. (It is worth noting that Kos/R2000 show dramatically different results for younger voters than other polls. Most show Brown winning voters 18-44 years old, while Kos shows the opposite.) As Harry Enten '11 wrote on his blog, a likely voter model based on historical trends gives Brown the advantage.

President Obama's visit to Massachusetts comes on the heels of several prominent Democratic leaders scrambling to shore up support in the Bay State. It is likely too little, too late. Republicans are more enthusiastic about this race, and are eager to deal health care reform a fatal blow by making Brown the 41st vote of the Republican bloc.

Win or lose, Democratic bloodletting will begin first thing Wednesday morning. Coakley's ran a terrible campaign predicated on her inability to lose. As my friend Dan Thele '10 pointed out to me in an e-mail, rule one of running a political campaign is: to actually campaign. Democrats should learn this lesson before November. Even safely blue states aren't that safe.

My prediction: Brown (R) 50, Coakley (D) 48, Kennedy (L) 2. The spoiler: if Obama's visit to Boston radically drives the African American vote. (Another prediction: if Brown wins, look for his name on a list of veep contenders in 2012; that is slightly less likely, however, if my current favorite in the 2012 race, John Thune, captures the GOP nomination.)

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