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Mass. Win Ripples Through Other Blue State Races

Mass. Win Ripples Through Other Blue State Races

By Kyle Trygstad - January 20, 2010

Just two people -- John F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy -- had been elected in the last 58 years to the Massachusetts Senate seat Republican Scott Brown won yesterday. The seat's legacy and Democrats' dominance in the state were no match, however, for the lethal mix of Brown's message and a poorly run campaign by Democrat Martha Coakley, as well as a shifting public mood.

The upset, which political analyst Stuart Rothenberg called the biggest of his adult life, follows Republican wins in the New Jersey and Virginia governor's races last year -- all three states voted convincingly for Barack Obama in 2008. The Massachusetts loss threatens to derail an already-stalled agenda, especially health care reform, which the House and Senate have struggled to negotiate and national polling shows is unpopular.

It also could spell trouble for Democrats in the midterm elections in November, even in states with similar political leanings as Massachusetts -- states such as New York and California, where Democratic senators are fighting to keep their seats.

In a statement last night, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, noted that the Republican message resonated "even in the bluest of blue states."

"As we look forward to the midterm elections this November, Democrats nationwide should be on notice," he said.

"As goes Massachusetts, anything can happen," MSNBC host Chris Matthews said last night. And Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said on FOX News that Brown's win "is going to send a chill down the spines of Democrats across the country." Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), for one, certainly hopes so. He told ABC News yesterday that "if you lose Massachusetts and that's not a wake-up call, there's no hope of waking up."

A year after being appointed to her seat, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is still unknown to more than a third of the state, recent polling finds, and she trails former Republican governor George Pataki in a potential general election matchup. She also could face a primary challenge from former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford Jr.

However, at least one person close to the senator says she is no more worried about her election prospects now than last month. Gillibrand's not worried "because she is going to win," spokesman Matt Canter told RealClearPolitics.

Democrats in New York control the governor's mansion and state legislature, and also hold both Senate seats and 26 of 29 House seats. However, Democrats have an even stronger hold in Massachusetts, including all 10 House seats and, until last night, both Senate seats.

In California, Sen. Barbara Boxer's campaign is taking the Massachusetts result more seriously. In an interview with RCP, Boxer campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said the campaign had already been preparing for a tough re-election but there could be important lessons learned from the Massachusetts race.

"Even though California is a very reliable blue state in presidential elections, it's not so clearly blue in other elections," said Kapolczynski. "We're taking nothing for granted."

One lesson she noted is that "it could signal the emergence of the Tea Party movement as a stronger political force."

"If it's true that they're a crucial part of the momentum that Brown developed, it could give Chuck DeVore a boost here in California," Kapolczynski said of the state Assemblyman considered the most conservative of Boxer's challengers. "He could be more competitive if they really engage."

DeVore has developed a national grassroots following in reaction to the national GOP's support for Carly Fiorina. Also hoping to knock off Boxer is former congressman Tom Campbell.

"Every one of the Republicans running would present their own unique campaign and their own unique challenges," said Kapolczynski, "but I think in the end the people of California are going to re-elect Barbara Boxer."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was already facing a tough re-election in Nevada, where he trails two relatively unknown Republicans. Another member of party leadership, Washington Sen. Patty Murray isn't expected to face a tough challenge, but the Seattle Times -- in reaction to the Massachusetts race --noted recently that "the potential for voter backlash nationally against Democrats could be a wild card in her race."

Seeing the writing on the wall, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd opted against running for re-election. Running in his place is state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who polls show leading Republicans by 20 points. However, his opponents will certainly try to build on the GOP win in the state's neighbor to the north -- in a statement last night, Linda McMahon said "Scott Brown is only the beginning."

So what other Democrats could face a tougher re-election than initially expected? Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez says not to read too much into the Massachusetts race.

"It is important to keep in mind that today's special election in Massachusetts was just that: a special election, with a whole host of circumstances that are unique," he said. "I would caution against taking a single unique election and extrapolating what it means for the midterms ten months away."

Whether or not Democratic incumbents in states like Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington are now in jeopardy, Brown's win will likely provide a boost to Republican fundraising, which has lagged behind Democrats so far this cycle. The National Republican Congressional Committee was out with a fundraising e-mail just an hour after Brown won.

 

Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: kyle@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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