There’s an election coming up in Massachusetts to replace Senator Ted Kennedy. Properly waged by the Republican, Scott Brown, it could become a perfect storm of the health care debate. Sissy Willis proposes that it be made a referendum on the potential national catastrophe being masticated by Congress, with the latest milestone the corrupt passage of the Senate version as early coal in the nation’s stocking on Christmas Eve. It has the potential to be a brilliant political move.
Consider: Ted Kennedy was the leading proponent of nationalizing health care for decades. When he died last year of brain cancer, the Democrats cynically (and shamefully, in my opinion) used the event to play on the emotions of those who might have loved him, but were less enamored with the proposal. “Pass it for Teddy,” was the cry. “Let it be his legacy.”
Consider also: Massachusetts is the home of a prototype of ObamaCare (thanks in no small part to Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor). It (like the national plan percolating in Congress) mandated that all Massachusetts residents purchase health insurance. It seems to be failing on all fronts, with rising costs, more emergency room visits, and many unhappy residents. This may play no small part in Romney’s bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Now, consider the timing. The special election will take place on January 19. It’s accepted political wisdom now that, despite the rush to vote before Christmas in the Senate, the conference and reconciliation between the House and Senate versions of the national plan cannot occur in time to allow a vote on the reconciled bill prior to February. That means that a referendum in Massachusetts on the subject could have an interesting effect on wavering votes in both the House and the Senate. There is no margin for error in the Senate, where the health care bill got exactly the sixty votes needed to pass, and a slim one in the House.
If a Republican running against ObamaCare managed to pick up the seat of Ted Kennedy, or even come close to doing so, it would be a political earthquake of Richter 8+. What would that say about the popularity of the bill if it wasn’t even a winning issue in the state that had the most first-hand experience with it, not to mention in the election to replace the senator who had been a leading proponent of it? It would make it very difficult for the Democrats to continue to delude themselves that this legislation is a winning issue in the country at large, if it clearly wasn’t in one of the bluest of the blue states.
Beyond that, it would create even more impetus for the Republicans going into next fall’s crucial races and their attempt to wrest control of Congress back from the Democrats. It might even provide them with enough momentum to undo some of the damage Democrats wreaked over the past three years since taking over, though they’d need an unlikely two-thirds to get past a presidential veto. Not to mention, of course, that replacing Ted Kennedy with Scott Brown would deprive Harry Reid of the sixtieth vote that he would need to pass a reconciled bill in February, effectively killing the monstrosity, at least for this session.
The question, of course, is: would it work?
If the Republican candidate does make it a major issue in the race, those defending the record of the Massachusetts plan will argue, no matter how illogically, that the reason that it isn’t working properly is that it isn’t national — that the pool isn’t big enough. Or they will claim that its implementation was flawed and that Washington will (somehow) get it right, even though it doesn’t currently seem to be doing much else very well. This includes performing the most fundamental responsibility of the federal government: defending the nation and its citizens from foreign threats. And perhaps their arguments will carry the day, given the nature of the Bay State electorate.
As National Review political analyst Jim Geraghty notes:
[T]o illustrate how tough the odds are for Brown, let’s pretend that every registered Republican in the state, as of 2008, shows up and votes for him. And let us pretend that the independents split evenly, and that only one third of the state’s Democrats show up and vote for Coakley.
Under that scenario, Coakley still wins by about 1,045 votes. That’s how steep an uphill battle Brown faces in this race.
On the other hand, some of his own contacts are more optimistic, noting that special elections tend to have low turnout among the complacent incumbent party. They also note that the New Jersey and Virginia races last fall show a Republican surge and enthusiasm and a turning of independents away from the Democrats that can only have increased given the events of the past couple months.
In any event, given that Brown has such an uphill battle anyway, as Willis points out, he has to do something to shake up this race if he’s to have a chance. What does he have to lose? And there is much potentially to gain, not just for his own race, but for the nation.