Sunday, August 17, 2014

Massachusetts Primary Update - the Coakley Juggernaut

Hi all,

Been far too long since I have written and a quick recap is in order.

Although State Treasurer Steve Grossman won the endorsement of the delegates at the State Democratic convention, he continues (as predicted) to lag far behind frontrunner Attorney General Martha Coakley in the weekly polling that the Boston Globe has been running.

The latest Globe poll (August 15) of likely Democratic primary voters shows the following.
Coakley     45
Grossman  21
Berwick    10

The results, showing Coakley holding a comfortable lead, are consistent throughout all of the polling done on this race in the past several months. Grossman and Berwick are still widely unknown, even among likely voters, whilst Coakley with her long tenure in the AG's office and Senate loss to Brown in 2010 is a known quantity to the majority of Massachusetts residents.

Some of this is due to Grossman's cautious approach and he has made several missteps that will contribute to his probable loss on the September 9 primary.
  • He has failed to parlay his convention endorsement into any sort of momentum. True, summer is a dead season politically, but he has made no real headway to erase his limited exposure and name recognition.
  • Much of the reason for the above is a failure to use his considerable wealth to advertise and promote himself. A third of voters still do not recognize his name while Coakley has over 90% name recognition. He is beginning to advertise now, but I think it is just too little too late. After Labor Day there will be a week's worth of campaigning and he is behind the Eight Ball. Too little too late.
  • Not to be harsh, but Grossman simply is not engaging and/or electrifying as a candidate. The left wing of the party is enamored of Berwick and as Grossman and Coakley have similar policy positions, he is having trouble creating real distinctions. Passion and message matter - recall Governor Patrick was considered an also-ran once, but used his tremendous political skills and ability to connect with voters to his advantage.
  • Grossman is also in the difficult position of having to be careful - if he attacks Coakley too aggressively, he may damage the party's chance to win in November and also risks being portrayed as a sexist. In Massachusetts, identity politics really do matter and Grossman risks a lot if he is seen as being "too mean-spirited". However, if he does not go after her and knock down her ratings, he will lose the race. An unenviable position.
Martha Coakley, on the other hand, is coasting - this may be a potential problem in November, but is working thus far.
  • Inevitability - she has been the frontrunner throughout. Many voters want to be with a perceived winner and not waste their vote (hence Berwick's poor showing). The media coverage of the race is fueling this perception.
  • As I have mentioned before, the "sisterhood" is a huge factor and advantage. Note that Coakley's first television ad talks about the "old boy network" - this is politically smart and activates her core female supports. Also, a majority of Democratic primary voters will be female. The potential history-making event of the first elected female governor in Massachusetts cannot be emphasized enough. It is a key factor for these activists who donate their money, time, and enthusiasm.
  • Coakley is also well known statewide and will take advantage of some of the sympathy that she was able to garner after her Senate loss. Her favorability among all voters is relatively high (53% in the latest poll). All in all, a good place to be three weeks out from the primary.
One note about Donald Berwick - the left-wing Party activists like/adore him and propelled him into a strong third place finish at the convention. But he is a literally focusing only on the issues of single-payer healthcare and opposition to casinos. Unfortunately for Berwick, he has little charisma, money, and coverage (over 70% of likely voters do not know who he is). The support of activists in Cambridge, Brookline, and Amherst will not be enough for a primary win...

I am standing by my prediction that Coakley wins the September 9 primary comfortably, although I suspect the race will close a bit after Labor Day. Ironically, Berwick is hurting Grossman as any anti-Coakley vote is being split. Some in the Party believe Coakley may be a weaker general election candidate due to her previously illustrated lack of campaigning skills, but this will not be enough to stop her inevitable nomination.

OK- some numbers for September. I predict (on a short limb)

Coakley    47 (the juggernaut rolls - she wins Middlesex county convincingly and wins or places a close second in most communities)
Grossman 38 (statewide support, but just not enough - will win many blue collar communities though)
Berwick   15 (wins Amherst and maybe Newton and does well in liberal suburbs)

Coakley vs Baker (Baker will dispatch Mark Fisher on September 9 with little fanfare) will be a good race - I still give the edge to Coakley, but once we get into September and past the primaries the campaign will take on an entirely new theme. Stay tuned!


The Prof

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Predictions 2014 - What Will the Year Bring? Massachusetts Edition

Happy New Year!

2014 means a return to electoral politics and thus more blogging from the Prof. I am going to take the liberty (and very possible egg on my face 11 months hence) of gazing into the crystal ball and predicting the midterm electoral results.  My focus for this post will be on Massachusetts, (I will attempt to divine what will happen with the nationwide midterm elections in the next edition) The crystal ball is still very cloudy this far out...

Massachusetts Governor

This race represents the best chance for the long-suffering state GOP to have some sorely needed electoral success. Unfortunately for the GOP, I see Charlie Baker's chances at less than 50/50, but do think it remains possible for him to win.


The Democrats have what looks to be a crowded field for the primary. As party rules state that any candidate who does not get 15% of the support of delegates at the state party convention cannot appear on the primary ballot, this field is likely to be winnowed down.

Top tier candidates who will appear on the primary ballot
  • Martha Coakley, the current State Attorney General - predicted nominee
  • Steven Grossman, the current State Treasurer
 The rest of the pack
  • Joseph Avellone, executive at PAREXEL
  • Donald Berwick, former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Juliette Kayyem, former official in the Department of Homeland Security
I predict the Coakley, Grossman, and at least one of the remaining three (I am thinking Kayyem as she has a lot of progressive support) garner enough support among the activist base at the party convention make it to the primary ballot.

The real race is likely to be between Coakley and Grossman. Grossman has the demonstrated means to raise a tremendous amount of money, but suffers from a lack of name recognition and a low overall profile. Coakley has very high name recognition, but has a problem with lackluster campaign skills and the loss to Scott Brown in 2010 continues to make party leaders a bit wary. However, I think that Coakley has improved on these skills, has very high favorability numbers, and with the potential to be the first elected female governor will activate the "sisterhood" (more on this shortly). This will propel her to the Democratic nomination.


Charlie Baker (along with Lt. Governor running mate Katyn Polito) will face nominal opposition for the party nomination from Tea Party activist Mark Fisher, but will coast to the GOP nomination.


Jeffrey McCormick, Venture Capitalist is going to launch a well-financed candidacy and will probably have enough support to qualify for the general election ballot. As he appears to be a fiscal conservative, this may be detrimental to the GOP's chances in November.

General Election

Martha Coakley is likely to win a fairly close race and become the Commonwealth's next governor.

The aforementioned "sisterhood"... the activist base of the Democratic party with a high proportion of liberal female voters will turn out in force (as they did for Elizabeth Warren in  2012). Additionally, many suburban independent female voters will be drawn to Coakley.

Why is this likely?

The long-standing electoral gender gap, that has men more likely to favor the GOP and women leaning more toward Democrats, will be widened. This reasoning is based on early polling for both the state governor's race and the 2016 presidential race. This shows that both Coakley and Clinton are enhancing their natural advantage among female voters (especially independent female voters) at higher rates than male Democratic candidates. Energizing base voters and taking a higher proportion of independent women than a male candidate (like Grossman) is a huge plus for Coakley. It may mean an extra boost that will turn a close election.

Another key reason is the long-suffering GOP brand image. The Massachusetts GOP and Baker himself represent a socially moderate fiscally conservative model that should be positioned well with the preferences of many Bay State voters. However, as I have mentioned numerous times, the national GOP is socially very conservative which plays very poorly with the majority of voters in Massachusetts. The Democrats will tie Baker to the most radical members of the Tea Party at every opportunity. Expect  Baker to be hammered on this; he will need a strategy to counteract this...but he risks the more conservative elements of the local GOP staying home on election day if he is overly anti-Tea Party. A tough situation for him to be sure.

Independent candidate Jeffrey McCormick, should he be on the ballot, will bleed votes that are far more likely to go to Baker if it was a one on one race against Coakley. In what will be a close race, 2% means a lot!

Both Baker and Coakley suffer from poor past image. Baker is trying to rectify that and transform himself to a reasonable and caring candidate from the rather "angry candidate" role that he took in his 2010 loss to Deval Patrick. Coakley is running the AG's office in a very high profile way promoting the public good and going after unfair business practices. Expect more negative stories and reports regarding the state's health carriers - Baker is the past CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and I see Coakley using her role as AG to expose any practices in the industry that may be considered dubious.

Coakley has her own problems that will be highlighted during the campaign. She does not have a particularly engaging personality and comes off as aloof. Expect her to run as a moderate on fiscal issues and a progressive on social issues.

Bet she campaigns vigorously outside of Fenway Park this time!

The key issues of this race are likely going to be healthcare (if health reform is a bust, it helps Baker immensely) and state fiscal policy. Baker and Coakley have significant policy differences both of these issues that will provide a good and healthy debate. A sleep issue is that there may be a mini tax revolt as there is a ballot question that would repeal recently enacted legislation that provided for automatic yearly increase to the gas tax.  Expect casinos to be a point of contention as well.

This promises to be a lively race, but in the end this is how the vote will probably look - yes, I acknowledge that I am way out on a limb here!

Coakley 51%
Baker 46%
McCormick 3%

On November 4, I can look back on this and see how incorrect I was...or possibly how predictive...

Other Races

Senator Markey cruises to reelection.  As of today, there are no declared GOP candidates. He may get a free ride if the GOP cannot find a warm body.

All  incumbents in the House of Representatives (all Democrats - this IS Massachusetts after all) are easily reelected...with one exception!

6th Congressional District turns Red

I think that the upcoming rematch between Incumbent John Tierney and GOP challenger Richard Tisei on the North Shore will be another very close race. In 2010, Tierney won by a 1% margin. He benefited from the Libertarian candidate winning over 4% of the vote (most of which would have leaned to Tisei) and the power of both President Obama and Elizabeth Warren's turnout machine. 2014 will present a more favorable environment for Tisei and I do think that he will win a narrow race against the scandal-plagued Tierney. In fact, there is a Democrat, former Marine Seth Moulton, challenging Tierney in the party primary. Many Democrats are rightly worried that Tierney will be unable to hold the seat. I share that assessment.

The Democrats easily hold all of the other state constitutional elected offices (AG, Treasurer, Secretary of State, and State Auditor). Several of these races will not even be contested by the Republicans.

The GOP will make very limited (if any) gains in the state legislature and the Democratic monopoly in this institution continues for the foreseeable future.

Of course, I reserve the right to change any of these predictions as conditions warrant - but it is still interesting and instructive to evaluate the landscape for  2014. As my favorite commentator on all things political, Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, often says - those who live by the crystal ball often end up eating ground glass. Wise words indeed!


The Prof

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Election 2013 Postmortem and other thoughts

Long time since I have written as this was a slow summer politically...but as things are starting to ramp up, it is time to begin anew.

Election 2013

The results of last week's elections in VA and NJ were not very surprising.  NJ Governor Chris Christie was reelected by a broad coalition, including women and minorities, and has set the stage for a potential presidential run in 2016. Many see him as the best possible GOP candidate as he has won the governorship in a blue state (twice) and shows the ability to attract moderates and suburbanites, qualities many GOP candidates are sorely lacking.  Christie's issue will be satisfying the hard-core conservatives who increasingly dominate Republican electoral politics in the key presidential primary states.  The boisterous NJ Governor will have his hands full campaigning among southern evangelicals and anti-immigration activists.  Major talk radio hosts who do have considerable influence describe him as a RHINO (look it up) at best and a traitor to conservative ideals.  The next two years will be telling as the 2016 invisible primary ramps up.

In Virginia, the Democrats captured the governor's seat.  Former Clinton aid, Terry McAuliffe, beat the GOP tea-party backed candidate and a Libertarian who took 6% of the vote.  The vote was closer than recent polling showed, but demonstrates that once solidly red Virginia has gone decidedly purple fueled by the liberal Washington DC suburbs. Many are saying that McAuliffe's successful campaign was a test run for Hillary Clinton in 2016 as he appealed strongly to suburban women and traditional Democratic constituent groups. Again, time will tell.

The City of Boston elected a new mayor.  After over 20 years, Mayor Menino is retiring thus paving the way for Mayor-elect Marty Walsh.  Walsh's election on Tuesday with strong backing from labor again demonstrates the power of organization and door to door GOTV efforts overwhelming city councilor John Connolly's rather hapless and unorganized campaign.  Union shoe leather will trump newspaper endorsements and the accolades of the punditocracy almost every time.

In other news, the Casino went down in East Boston, Mayor Lantigua may be going down in Lawrence (pending a recount with ballots under police guard), and New York City is now going to be governed by a liberal true believer in city hall.

National Politics

There have been two major items of note on the national scene, the roll-out of of the ACA (aka Obamacare) and the government shutdown last month.  Each party has been affected negatively by these.

The Shutdown was pinned squarely on the GOP by the public and Congress's already abysmal rating continue to sink.  Ironically, it temporarily distracted from the very poor launch of the ACA.  In short, governmental dysfunction continues and the "can" has only been kicked down the road. Politically it hurt the GOP more - does this prompt the Democrats to "hope" for another shutdown next year...say closer to the November 2014 midterms?  Does the GOP hierarchy put down the open revolt of the tea party faction?  Some sort of real Republican Party split, although unlikely, cannot be discounted in the next few years.

The Democrats in general and President in particular have been hurt by not only the very real National Exchange website issues, but even more so by people getting their policies cancelled after repeated assurances that "if you like your plan, you can keep it."  The Administration is trying to back-peddle and parse words on that infamous line now, but the damage control effort does not seem very convincing.

Some polls now show Obama's approval falling below the 40% threshold - approaching George W. Bush territory.  Second terms are usually problematic and Obama's second term is no exception thus far.  This does not bode well for immigration reform which is perhaps his biggest initiative and would be a real legacy accomplishment if he can shepard it through a hostile congress.

Neither party is acquitting itself well.  Recent polling shows that over half of Americans are open to a third party and a general malaise about our political culture is very evident.  A quick note - it is VERY unlikely that a third party can make a serious run at any major office for a host of reasons.  Also, third parties as a concept poll well, but in practice perform very poorly and act as spoilers at best.  However, stranger things have happened in politics and if well-known elected officials of both parties decided to break off to form a moderate centrist party that could well be something...nah!

And now for something completely different...

It is still a year before the 2014 midterms, but The Prof is all over it and will be reporting frequently.  And getting back to local politics, there will be a competitive governor's race in Massachusetts in 2014, culminating 360 days hence.

By the way - this marks my 100th post since launching this site in 2009.  Looking forward to the next 100!


The Prof

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Markey wins - no surprises

Last Tuesday, Markey defeated Gabriele Gomez in a ho-hum election that generated little interest.  I was remarkably close in my predictions - maybe I am getting better at this...

  • I predicted a margin of 57%-43%.  The final result was 55%-45%.
  • My turnout projection was 35%.  It ended up being 27%.  Elections on a 90 degree day in late June are only going to bring out the die-hards.  Toss in the fact that there was no real suspense in the race and the 27% is not surprising.
  • As predicted, Markey ran up big victories in Western Mass, the Route 2 corridor west of Boston, and in the cities.  Markey did very well in the Happy Valley (89-11 in Amherst), liberal suburbs (75-25 in Lexington and Newton) and Boston where Mayor Menino helped him win 76% of the vote.
  • Gomez was able to win five of the 14 counties (Barnstable, Plymouth, Worcester, Bristol and Hampdem), and won a majority of towns in Central Mass, Metro Springfield, the Merrimack Valley, and the North and South Shores. However, he just could not compete elsewhere in the state to the level to make it any closer.

Below is the Boston Globe's map of how the communities voted.

As we can see, the communities colored red and blue fairly accurately reflect the regions where each party dominates.  The advantage of the Democrats is that they are able to win and win convincingly in populated areas.

What ifs, maybes, and might-have-beens

Markey's organization and advertising combined with a rookie GOP candidate made this race a snoozer.  Would another GOP candidate, say Scott Brown have yielded a different result?

My instinct is that in this hypothetical that it would have been very close. I think Markey would have prevailed, but by just a couple of points.  The Democratic machine would have been more revved up to turn out a larger vote.  Brown may have had trouble fundraising.  But Brown is a far superior candidate to Gomez (and in my opinion Markey is a lackluster candidate at best) and maybe, just maybe, he could have pulled it off.

Brown was clearly not interested this time around as it would have meant his third race in three years and that takes a huge toll. Brown is still smarting after losing to Warren last November. Also if he lost, his political future would be damaged as he may have trouble raising money after two consecutive senate defeats. But...the seat is up for reelection yet again in 17 months as the special election was simply to fill the remainder of John Kerry's term.  Brown will be thinking very carefully about a run and if Markey is smart, he will be working very hard to cultivate a statewide organization to fend off any potential challenge.  That being said, I still believe that Markey is in good shape for reelection in 2014 considering the political physics of Massachusetts.

Oh yes...2014 with a Governor's race (Martha Coakley vs Charlie Baker??), a senate race, and state legislative and constitutional offices up for grabs.  Candidates are even now beginning to position themselves.  The Prof will be all over this in the very near future.


The Prof