Captain Hindsight – My Opinion of What Went Wrong

Many people believed or hoped that 2010 would be similar to 1990 in terms of a resurgence of the Republican Party in Massachusetts. That year, the MassGOP candidates won for Governor and Treasurer. The ranks of the Legislature swelled to 16 Senators and 38 Representatives. Obviously, the results were nowhere near 1990, and the reasons are many. It’s not just the Dem. GOTV machine, a lack of a party message, too much focus on Governor or a lack of support for local candidates. It was a bit of all those things and more.

Preparation

The Republican Party wasn’t prepared to take advantage of the anti-Democrat climate in 2010. After a GOP embarrassment at the polls in 1986. In 1987-90, the Republican Party here rebuilt and employed a large staff of professionals. It was the start for many names we now know: Joe Malone, Charlie Manning, Jeff Jacoby, etc. They were able to do this through a successful and independent fundraising effort. These are two major steps our current Party didn’t take. I’m not saying the staff of the Party now aren’t nice, but they are definitely undermanned. And, any fundraising success the party had was only from the last year and a result of fundraising efforts by Charlie Baker for his election effort.

You can’t take advantage of any opportunity if you aren’t ready for it. Between 1987 and the election of 1990, the Republican Party worked hard to define itself in the eyes of the electorate. There was a Republican brand that people were buying into and not just a candidate. When the timing was right heading into 1990, the party was poised to take advantage. The recruitment and enrollment numbers are indicative of their success in Party-building. They challenged 80% of the seats in the Massachusetts Legislature, and increased the percentage of Republican voter registration. While recruitment efforts were up a bit this year, it was a long way from 80% and GOP registration actually dropped between 2008 and 2010. By the time, the Republican wave was materializing, it was too late to take full advantage of it in Massachusetts.

Candidate Support

It’s been said that the MassGOP didn’t do anything for local candidates, which is untrue. However, they could have been better in this respect. First off, candidates had nothing to work for. They were given plans and goals (fundraising, doorknocking, etc.), but not incentive. If they did everything to hit those goals there was no promise of party support. For the 1990 cycle, candidates were given some money for each threshold they reached. The party also augmented targeted candidate efforts with additional fundraising assistance. They knew the big money donors in the state, and they asked them to send checks to those candidates.

This year the Party support essentially consisted of in-kind mailings. This was a significant help to many campaigns to the tune of about $3,000. I was unable to ascertain how many campaigns received this help through OCPF records, but know it was a good number. In addition, there’s voter vault and other standard institutional support (manuals, basic research, voting records, etc.) available to all candidates. The only other mail I received from the party for any candidate was the absentee ballot mailing, which was not worth much in my opinion.  

Grassroots

The grassroots of the Republican Party remain woefully unorganized for the most part. Of course there are bright spots in certain areas, but we come nowhere near the overall organization of the Democrats. The lower than expected turnout and lack of a Republican GOTV effort definitely hurt our candidates this year.

When Scott Brown ran, there were so many phone calls made that he was beginning to anger voters. I personally got at least 4 phone calls, voice messages, etc. On the other hand, I didn’t get a single voter id or GOTV call from the Party or Baker campaign this cycle. Scott had the once in a lifetime luxury of having the entire country behind him. It was well-reported that experienced activists were making calls from other states and even coming to MA to help Scott.

However, his support was also local. He had campaign offices set up all over the state. The Democrats did the same thing this cycle. In my area they had 4 campaign offices where volunteers could volunteer for all candidates. The closest Baker office was 35 minutes away without traffic.

If the party can’t fund an effort like the Democrats, they can certainly call on the local committees to step up. However, the local committees aren’t given much direction. If asked, they are told their responsibility is everything from voter registration to fundraising and candidate recruitment. It’s a daunting task for an untrained volunteer. Many committees are overwhelmed and unfocused. As a result, most of are local groups at this point are ineffective.  

Branding

This is where we fell seriously flat. It’s almost as if we expected Deval Patrick and the Democrats to just roll over and not put up a fight. While Deval was spending the last year touting his achievements and projecting a positive message of Massachusetts heading the right direction, the Democrats were branding Charlie as a rich Health Care CEO who was responsible for the Big Dig.

While there was excitement for Scott Brown and voter discontent with Deval Patrick, the Republican Party failed to connect these phenomena with the Party in the minds of the voters. Similarly, the effort on behalf of Charlie Baker was more about electing anyone but Deval, and it was not about voting for the Republican alternative and definitely not about electing the Republican slate.  

We fell right into the trap of arguing with Deval Patrick about how bad things are in MA. Whenever new data came out, we spun it as MA sucks. They spun it as MA is awesome. We were selling a very negative message in a negative way, and people didn’t respond. What could have been done is to paint Deval as out-of-touch. He was saying things are great when they weren’t. Instead of arguing that point to death, assume the voters know the truth and run with it. Go around to the NH border to closed businesses and poke fun at our Governor who is saying things are great as businesses leave the state. Stand in front of his mansion as he attempts to quibble over jobs created while the unemployment rate rises.

Another major problem was that our message was centered around Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick. There was no sustained effort to get people to vote for Republicans as a whole. The Democrats obviously continued to demonize the entire GOP among their base. On the other hand we put all our cards behind Charlie Baker. I believe he was a very good man who became a legitimately good campaigner. However, when his campaign team didn’t run a good effort behind him, it spelled doom not only for his chances, but for the entire ticket.    

About brivers

  • well captain in my opinion everything went right.in one election cycle the entire country flipped.your posting should should be sub-titled what went wrong in the commonwealth.it’s the happy warrior syndrome,don’t blame us we voted for mcgovern for president.

  • We didn’t have a REPUBLICAN organization – we had hundreds of insular organizations for different candidates, while the DEMS were completely united – from campaign offices to lawn signs to GOTV efforts to message – and this deficiency, combined with a message that apparently scared some people – sunk the top of the ticket.

    I admire how gutsy our message was, best delivered by Charlie Baker, even as I recognize now that it was not a politically prudent way to attract votes in a bad economy where too many people feel like they don’t have enough job security.

    I had a guy who is an employee of a Republican office holder, and who was holding a sign for his boss all day on election day, tell me that he could not vote for Charlie because he was afraid of losing his pension, and he felt that his pension was all he had. This guy voted for Scott Brown in January, and Cahill on Tuesday.