Saturday, June 27, 2009

Massachusetts Republicans - irrelevant or ready for a comeback - Part III

OK - can the Massachusetts Republican Party begin to make some sort of comeback in the 2010 election? The short answer (uncharacteristic for me to have a short answer) is maybe.

Yes, I know that is waffling, but we are still too far out from the 2010 election to go with anything more definitive than a 'maybe'. However, I will make some predictions that I reserve the right to amend at any point as conditions warrant.

Governor - I am sticking (so far) with my earlier posting's prediction that Governor Patrick has about a 70% chance for reelection assuming that he indeed runs. Late word is that he is signing the sales tax and other tax increases that he opposed a few short weeks ago. He has publicly changed his position given that the legislature has passed ethics and other reform legislation. Whether the voting public is convinced of this remains to be seen. This can break either way for him, but the Governor needs to be mindful that he is treading a knife's edge by signing a tax increase that his opponents are sure to use against him.

This leaves an opening for the Republican nominee - whomever he or she may be. Bottom line: if 2010 is a "change" election the Republican nominee has a shot at this. Gubernatorial reelections are usually referendums on the incumbent - this election will mostly be about Governor Patrick and whether or not the voters will hire him for another term.

The Republicans are likely going to have a primary fight. How contentious that fight is and whether the Mihos, Baker, and Brown supporters can unify after the primary remains to be seen. The danger is that a core of supporters of one candidate (yes I am thinking Mihos) may well sit out the election if their candidate is not the nominee. Mihos' independent run in 2006 certainly took votes away from Kerry Healy. I believe that state Republicans are holding their breath and are concerned that Mihos may do the same thing in 2010 if he does not win the nomination.

The wildcard as always are the independent voters. The Republican nominee needs to pick up over half of them and also some of the more conservative blue-collar Democrats to win. Patrick will likely receive the support of suburban liberals, minorities, human services advocates, and labor unions - all major political heavyweights in Massachusetts. The Republican nominee will need to be able to craft a coalition of support that will counter that powerful base that Patrick can count on.

If I were to advise the Republicans, I would say that Charlie Baker is probably the best candidate they can put forth. I would still bet against him winning given the nature of the Commonwealth, but he may be able to assemble a winning coalition if the conditions are just right. Senator Brown may have a chance as well. I simply cannot see Christy Mihos winning a general election, but if the wheels fall off of Patrick who knows?

Governor Patrick needs to play the anti-establishment outsider as much as he can, stay on message, and use the bully pulpit of his office. He has immense political skills and remains a very formidable force with very committed supporters.

State Legislature - there will probably be small gains for the Republicans, but I don't see a repeat of 1990 when there was substantial turnover unless state fiscal conditions deteriorate or more legislative scandals erupt. As I mentioned in my earlier posting it is just very difficult to unseat an incumbent legislator even under the best of circumstances so small gains would be the best Republicans can do this year. They need to be able to recruit candidates and also focus on winning local offices (Board of Selectman, Mayors, City Councilors, Dogcatcher, etc.) to build up a rooster of candidates with some political seasoning instead of putting up inexperienced candidates against entrenched incumbents as they too often do.

One last factor - will the state legislature approve additional tax increases in the next year? Usually legislative bodies are loathe to raise additional revenues in an election year, but the left wing of the Democratic Party continues to float an income tax increase to restore state funding deficiencies. There is still muted talk of a gas tax increase as well. If the Democrats overreach, it could blow up for them politically.

I plan to revisit these predictions on the 2010 elections in a few months. It is highly likely that I will look back on this post and think "Brad - I can't believe you missed this factor, it was so obvious!"

The next 16 months and five days promise to be a fun political ride! Onwards...

The Prof

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Massachusetts Republicans - irrelevant or ready for a comeback - Part II

The above is an image of the original "Gerrymander" from 1812. I like this one especially as my hometown of Lynnfield is on it!

As discussed in the last posting, Massachusetts Republicans do not have a large presence in the Massachusetts political environment. There are a number of factors that continue to hinder the resurgence of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

Historical Democratic Party Identification

Ever since newly arriving Irish immigrants gravitated to the Democrats in the early 1900s, there has been a very strong affinity with many immigrant groups withe Democratic party. The election of Jack Kennedy served to solidify this loyalty. Today, new immigrant groups are quickly politically organized and for the most part are loyal Democratic voters. Traditional immigrant communities (Irish, Italian) continue a strong cultural affinity for Democrats especially in urban areas and blue collar suburbs.

Educational Attainment

Massachusetts has a very high proportion of residents over age 25 with at Bachelors Degree or higher (33% in MA versus the US average of 24% - 2000 US Census data). There have been a number of research studies that suggest that as one's educational attainment increases (especially with post-graduate work) that one tends to become more tolerant and socially liberal. The plethora of institutions of higher education attract many academics who (again demonstrated through numerous polls and surveys) lean to the left and toward the Democratic Party.

Conservatism of the National Republican Party

As discussed in the last post, Massachusetts voters lean decidedly toward the liberal side of the spectrum. This is especially true on social issues. Although many Republicans and Republican officeholders in the state are fiscal conservatives, yet socially moderate the perception (which is relatively accurate) that Republicans are socially beholdent to the Christian Right, makes many voters in Massachusetts have second thoughts about voting Republican. Having the Republican label can be a drag one a candidacy due to generally poor perceptions of the party as a whole.

Advantage of Incumbency

Incumbent officeholders enjoy many advantages over their challengers (when there are challengers which is all too rare!). Superior fundraising, name recognition, media exposure, organization, and experience in winning elections all contribute to the nearly 100% reelection rate of incumbents in Massachusetts.

Lack of a strong "Farm Team"

With all of the hurdles that Republicans face winning election in Massachusetts, talented individuals who aspire to higher office may well run as Democrats (there is a sizable conservative branch of the Massachusetts Democratic Party). Winning candidates need to have appeal, political skills, and a background consummate with filling a legislative or executive seat. All too often the Massachusetts Republicans have run candidates who simply are lacking some of these key elements. One upside for Republican candidates is that it is not difficult to secure a spot on the November ballot since there simply are not many others coveting the same office.

Gerrymandering of Legislative and Congressional Districts

In most states, legislative and congressional districts are drawn by the state legislature every ten years to reflect populations shifts with each US Census. In non-competitive states, it is relatively easy to draw the physical boundaries of these districts to advantage the political party that holds sway in the legislature. This is accomplished by splitting up areas where the opposition party is strong into two or more districts - classic divide and conquer strategy. Areas of strength of the party in power are kept together and consolidated to ensure a majority in as many districts as possible.

Both major parties will do this (Republicans gerrymandered the Democrats out of a number of seats in Texas after the 2000 census) and Massachusetts is no exception. Gerrymandering was born in Massachusetts in 1812 - the term's namesake is Governor Eldridge Gerry who drew a congressional district that looked like a salamander. (The Prof rarely makes editorial comments, but for the record supports the drawing of distictcs via an independent commission and removing partisan legislators from the process)


All of these factors are considerable hurdles for any party to overcome. However 2010 may be one of those rare years where the conditions are ripe for a political comeback of the long down-trodden Massachusetts Republicans. More on this in my next and last posting on this topic.

The Prof

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Massachusetts Republicans - irrelevant or ready for a comeback - Part I

Part I of this planned three-part post will examine the current state of the Massachusetts Republican Party which may soon have a DNR order if it does not show some signs of life.

Massachusetts is currently one of the bluest states in the nation (note - Jon Keller's excellent book, The Bluest State is a must read for Massachusetts political enthusiasts). The remnants of of the once-competitive state Republican Party is at a low ebb. Democrats have dominated state politics since the 1960s and increasingly so in more recent years.

Common polling questions measures political party affiliation and ideology. Below are results from the 2008 presidential election exit poll in Massachusetts and Minnesota for comparison purposes. Massachusetts is the least politically competitive state in the nation (as measured by incumbent officeholders facing challenges) whilst Minnesota is the most competitive. (Exit poll results courtesy of CNN)


By Party Identification

Democrats 40%
Independents 25%
Republicans 36%

By Ideology

Liberal 26%
Moderate 44%
Conservative 30%

Minnesota has a relatively balanced political environment and social/cultural factors that foster a sense of duty in citizens running for political office. Although one of the more educated and liberal-leaning states in the nation, Minnesota remains remarkably independent and competitive.


By Party Identification

Democrats 43%
Independents 40%
Republicans 17%

By Ideology

Liberal 32%
Moderate 46%
Conservative 21%

By Registered Voters
(Voter data is from The Secretary of the Commonwealth - October 2008)

Democrats 37%
Independents 50%
Republicans 13%

Massachusetts Officeholders
Federal Elected Offices

US Senators: Both Democrats
US House Members: 10 Democrats, no Republicans

Statewide Elected Offices

Governor: Democrat
Attorney General: Democrat
Treasurer: Democrat
Auditor: Democrat
Secretary of State: Democrat

State Legislature (just 17% of these seats were contested in 2008 - Minnesota had 100% of its legislative seats contested in 2008)

State Senate: 35 Democrats; 5 Republicans
State House of Reps: 144 Democrats; 16 Republicans

Yes, Massachusetts is indeed as one-sided as it appears!

As is clearly shown by party affiliation, ideology, and elected officeholders the Massachusetts Republican Party has a LOT of ground to make up if it is going to be even moderately competitive. 2010 may well be a year where voter frustration amid the economic crisis produce one of those rare moments where a minority party can get a second look from voters. A very similar thing happened in 1990, but the state has changed demographically and is arguably more politically liberal today than it was in 1990.

There have been a number of factors that have contributed the decline of Massachusetts Republicans and the current Democratic lock on power. More on this in the next post...

The Prof