Yesterday Massachusetts state senator Scott Brown pulled off an upset defeat of Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in a special election to fill the seat of the deceased Senator Ted Kennedy. Senator-elect Brown, the first Republican senator from Massachusetts since 1978 and the only current GOP member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, staged a stunning come-from-behind victory. His poll numbers surged over the past few months as the Democrats became increasingly desperate to pass a health care reform bill.
Senator Brown’s victory is all the more remarkable because Coakley had led the race by as much as 30 points only a few months ago . Likewise, President Obama carried Massachusetts in November 2008 by a comfortable 26% margin . What could have caused such a drastic shift in the electorate in slightly more than a year?
The answer is likely to be that the Democrats have lost the moderate voters. US elections are typically won in the middle of the political spectrum. Estimates of size vary, but the US electorate is split into three groups: the left, the right and the center. My estimate is that the left is smallest group at roughly 20%. The remainder is split roughly equally between the moderates and the right. Neither the right nor the left have the numbers necessary to win elections; they must appeal to moderate voters.
Barack Obama won because he won the moderates. Moderates and independents responded to Obama’s calls for “hope” and “change.” He promised a new era in which we would move past partisan politics. He promised fiscal responsibility and an end to government waste and corruption. Much of his campaign rhetoric actually sounded conservative. The reality of his administration has been somewhat different.
President Obama and the Democratic congressional leaders, Senator Harry Reid and Representative Nancy Pelosi, misread the election returns. They interpreted Obama’s victory, as well as Democratic landslides in congress, as a rejection of conservative principles. Once in office, they embarked on an orgy of spending programs and extreme left-wing growth of government. As the stimulus bill passed in February 2009, their popularity started to fall. When the senate passed the health care bill ten months on a strict party line vote, Democratic approval ratings plummeted. Partisanship was at a fever pitch. Legislation was cobbled together in secret meetings. Representatives voted for bills that they had not had time to read. This was not what the American people had signed up for. What’s more, it scared them. Then it made them angry.
The cracks in the Democratic support began to show in November 2009. In gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, both states won by Obama, Republican candidates won the moderate vote, and the elections, handily. Exit polls showed that Republicans won the moderate vote by a two-to-one margin . It was a short distance from there to Scott Brown’s unexpected victory in solidly blue Massachusetts.
What comes next for the Democrats is likely another round of electoral losses in November unless a strong course correction is made. Attempts to continue to push through unpopular legislation such as the health care reform and cap-and-trade will likely ensure the coming losses. If, as some Democrats have suggested, the Massachusetts secretary of state should refuse to certify Brown’s victory or the senate refuse to seat him until after the health care vote , then they will compound their arrogance and further anger the voters all around the country.
It remains to be seen whether (and what) President Obama and the Democrats will learn from Martha Coakley’s defeat. With ten months until the next general elections, there might be time to rehabilitate their image and prevent a catastrophic loss if they act quickly.
If the Republicans do win a large victory this year, it also remains to be seen if they have learned from their past mistakes. Just like the Democrats, the Republicans became spendthrifts with taxpayer money and caused government to grow too large. They also became corrupt and arrogant. For the sake of the country, let’s all pray that they have learned their lesson well.