Does a Brown Victory Pose a Danger for GOP?
I detect a certain giddiness on the right -- something to which I am not immune -- regarding Scott Brown's impending victory today in Massachusetts. But, like the slave who stood behind the Roman generals in their chariot as they received the adulation of the crowds during their triumph and whispered "Remember ... thou art but a man" constantly into their ears, so too must I whisper in the ear of Republicans today: "Remember ... Dick Thornburgh in 1991." From Pollster.com:
I am sure that there are other example, but the one that stands out for me is the victory of Democrat Harris Wofford in 1991. Wofford, appointed earlier that year to fill a vacant Senate seat, began as a virtual unknown and began trailing by more than 40 points against popular former Republican Governor Dick Thornburgh. Although the final round of public polls showed the candidates running about even, Wofford's momentum helped carry him to what turned out to be an eleven point victory margin (55 percent to 44 percent).
Of course, the same factors that make the trend toward Scott Brown so unusual also make the polling challenging and potentially misleading. Brown has moved up so rapidly partly because campaign has been truncated, but the rapid change also prompted a late avalanche of negative advertising by the Democrats directed at Brown. Because it is a special election being held on an usual date, pollsters have no prior history to judge the size and demographics of the likely electorate. The likely voter problem is one reason why polling errors tend to be larger in special elections.
In other words, anything can happen. That Roman general might have fallen off his horse the next day and broken his neck, or run afoul of Caesar and met some particularly gruesome end. In Massachusetts, Democrats might wake up this morning and ask themselves if they really want to hand the hated GOP such a monumental victory. Or perhaps a couple of hundred thousand Republicans will fall off their horses and break their necks.
After more than 30 years of being involved in politics, I can assure you that if it is possible, it can happen. A Coakley victory, no matter how unlikely at this point, cannot be dismissed. I offer this not in the spirit of Cassandra, but simply as a longtime observer of politics who has seen sure things turn into tears on Election Day more often than he cares to remember.
That said, let's pretend it's tomorrow morning and Scott Brown's glowing visage fills the screens of our televisions. Pundits will be chattering about the extraordinary debacle for Obama and the Democrats, and that's the way it should be.
But might a Brown victory also pose a danger for Republicans?
Consider: With this victory is going to come expectations. Just what those expectations might be are going to vary wildly between the conservative rank and file in the Republican Party and those who are going to give Brown his victory -- namely, the poor, put-upon, and slightly confused independent voter.
The base will be celebrating the destruction of the Democrats' liberal agenda. But the independents won't want to stop there. They may actually expect the GOP to work with the Democrats to get things done. Fixing the economy for starters; then, perhaps looking at some kind of health care reform that makes sense. Finally, with gas set to rise again, it may be prudent to come up with an energy policy beyond "drill baby, drill." These are three issues that independents may very well expect the Republicans to help deliver on.