Campaigns and election results tell one a lot about the political environment. The 2013 Senate special election was no exception. Yes, the results were a likely a disappointment to most reader of this board. However, I believe that there are also some very positive things as well that one can gleam from the results. I draw three conclusions from the results of the 6/25 election:
1. The Mass GOP Base is Growing
On a national level, the electorate is split roughly 50-50. It’s been over a generation since the last election in which a national candidate got more than 55% of the vote (Reagan in 1984). Massachusetts is not a 50-50 state. But it’s not as lopsided as in the past.
Consider: in the last four statewide elections, the outcome has been decided by a 10 point margin or less (2010: Brown 52-47 win; 2010: Baker 42-48 loss; 2012: Brown 46-54 loss; 2013: Gomez 45-55 loss). Yes, the GOP candidate lost 3 of 4. But that’s a whole lot different than the result before that. In 2006, Kennedy trounced Chase by a 38 point margin in 2006 (and beat Romney by a 17 point margin in 1994). Kerry walloped Beatty by 35 points in 2008. Indeed, those of us that remember the 1970’s and 1980’s in Massachusetts remember when Mass GOP candidates for state and federal office-including many well-funded candidates-were beaten by a 2-1 margin. Those days are over.
So what to do about it? Buck up. Tuesday’s loss may be a disappointment. But the trends are in the right direction. Keep the faith. Work harder. Our time will come.
2. The Mass GOP is the Party of the Middle Class
Take a look at a map of the special election results. http://www.boston.com/news/spe… The islands of Markey blue consist almost entirely of (i) wealthy gentry towns (Concord, Newton); (ii) old line industrial cities (Boston, Lawrence, New Bedford, Waltham); and (iii) progressive dystopias (Cambridge, Provincetown, Berkshire County and the Pioneer Valley). That giant sea of red between the islands of blue is middle class Massachusetts. Gomez rolled up 15-20 point margins across this region.
Given a choice between coalitions, I’d choose the red, middle class coalition. Indeed, there are structural tensions in the blue coalition that will increasingly come to the surface as government finances inevitably turn south. Pensions for the government workers in the progressive dystopias will increasingly crowd out government services for those in the old line industrial cities. Lower income households in the old line industrial cities will also become resentful of the costs of the agenda of the progressive dystopias. Markey, in his victory speech, called for a ‘green revolution’. http://www.masslive.com/politi… These are exactly the misguided policies that squeeze lower income households through higher energy costs (energy is a larger share of the household budget in lower income than higher income households).
So what to do? First, the Mass GOP should firmly position itself as the defender of the middle class. The GOP can do that by unabashedly promoting the free market, opportunity and fiscal responsibility. Finally, it’s also time for the GOP to stop spending political capital to protect Ed Markey’s voters from Ed Markey’s tax increases. If the wealthy gentry liberals in Concord really want to pay higher taxes, it’s not our job to save them from their own stupidity.
3. Young Voters Are the Growth Opportunity for GOP
Consider the differences in age of the starting lineup for the GOP versus that of the Democrats. Gomez is 47. Scott Brown 53. By comparison, Liz Warren’s 64 and Ed Markey is 66, and already collecting social security. On the national level, the differences are even greater. The top two Democratic Presidential contenders are 65 (Hillary Clinton) and 70 (Joe Biden). Contrast that with the GOP starting lineup: Rand Paul (50); Chris Christie (50) and Ted Cruz (43).
The GOP will never be able to outbid the Democrats when it comes to entitlement promises for the elderly. We all saw the Democratic Party ads in the special election promising no changes in social security or Medicare (and excoriating Gomez for considering changes that would increase the likelihood that these programs remain solvent.) The GOP needs to make the case that the policies of Ed Markey, Elizabeth warren and the Democratic Party are screwing young people.
Here’s a simple example of an issue that Gomez could have brought up (but didn’t) that would have detached some young voters from the Democratic coalition: this spring, the Senate voted to allow states to tax purchases on the internet. Young people, more than others, buy things on the internet. Young people hate the idea of taxing internet purchases. Gallup finds that 73 percent of young people oppose the idea-higher than for any other age group. http://www.gallup.com/poll/163… Elizabeth Warren and Mo Cowan nopt only voted for imposing a sales tax on internet purchases. http://www.senate.gov/legislat… Both Warren and Cowan were co-sponsors of the bill. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/… This was an issue tailor made for Gomez. Not only do young people oppose the tax-voters of all ages, all party affiliations and all income levels (especially lower income) do as well. But did you hear anything from Gomez or the Mass GOP on this issue? How about other issues like entitlement reform, the federal deficit, jobs, and labor market freedom. Young people are about all these issues. The key is to become more attuned to issues that matter to young people and to explain why the GOP agenda better serves the economic interests of youth.
So while the results of the June 25th election were not what most of us would have hoped, there are a lot of indications that things are moving in the right direction for the Mass GOP. The challenge is to capitalize on that.