The Massachusetts miracle of 2010


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When Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown won the Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy last week, the world came to an end. Well, almost.

The Democrats went into panic overdrive, and they are now worried that the 2010 election will be a bloodbath for them. The Republicans popped champagne by the case, reading the results as a Republican victory and a sign that they have the Democrats on the run.

As I wrote on insideriowa.com, Democrat Martha Coakley ran a lousy campaign, thinking she was a shoo-in.

Brown, a fantastic looking guy with military credentials, ran a good race, is not a conservative bomb thrower at all, and has a natural populist talent for politics. He is pro-choice.

Coakley is a woman, and female candidates still meet lots of gender resistance. There are only 17 women out of 100 in the Senate.

In Massachusetts, there is actually a lot of ambiguity about the Kennedy clan. Ted had a powerful machine, was the incumbent, he had seniority, and he brought home the bacon on government projects — especially the Big Dig project, which employed thousands of construction workers and pumped $14.6 billion into the Massachusetts economy. As soon as Kennedy passed away, voters had a choice.

Also, as a party, the Democrats are internally divided. How can you reconcile the position of Ben Nelson and other conservative Democratic senators with such liberals as Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Tom Harkin of Iowa?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is a shy and inarticulate man who could not give away bottled water in the Sahara. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is a powerful woman and not well liked by conservatives of either party.

Also, the Democrats never successfully pinned the Iraq fiasco, the economic crises, unemployment, etc., on the Republicans because Barack is a “healer” and a “uniter” and a “bipartisan,” a “post-politics guy,” and not a fighter.

Now, it’s probably too late. The voters are frightened by everything they see.

We have two endless, bloody, and costly wars, a continuing threat of terrorist attacks, a stagnant economy, continuing job losses, and a mortgage crisis that is now affecting people with “good mortgages” and jobs.

Arrogant banks are up to their old tricks, and credit-card companies are raising fees. The gigantic health reform proposal is incomprehensible, and many voters fear that things will get worse — not better — if it’s passed. The deficit and national debt are spinning out of control. Voters, not just the Tea Party folks, want blood.

The Democrats have also failed to get their message and their brand out, and the liberal radio network Air America went bankrupt this week. (Quick: Name the Rush Limbaugh of liberals.)

The Massachusetts Senate race does not tell us what will happen. I think it does suggest that it is incumbents who are in the voters’ cross hairs, especially now that independents (no-party) voters are the largest bloc.

It once against looks like comprehensive health-care reform may be run off the road, unless the Democrats use parliamentary maneuvers to pass it.

It’s also clear that 2012 will be a fascinating presidential year. The left is furious with Obama, and I see a challenge from a progressive Democrat against him (think 1980, when Ted Kennedy ran an insurgent campaign against President Jimmy Carter). On the Republican side, I predict numerous visits to Iowa by Brown, who looks like he has snuffed the Sarah Palin excitement candle.

All I can say is, “Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, here we come.”

Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University and chief political and international correspondent for insideriowa.com.

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