This is what I love about politics. The election of Scott Brown to the US Senate last night was an upset for the ages. It’s right up there with the Red Sox’ victory over the Yankees in the ALCS in ’04,Spinks beating Ali, and the US Olympic hockey team beating Russia in 1980. As pure political theater, it was as entertaining as anything I remember. Martha Coakley, the democratic candidate was pretty much considered the incumbent and the election itself was more ceremonial than anything. The republican candidate (just those words in Massachusetts brings a smug grin from most people around here) was treated the way an eight year old would be for attempting a magic trick at a family party – “That’s cute kid, very nice, now run along”.
As the campaign rolled along, we saw less and less of Coakley, which was okay because what we did see was a tight lipped, overly cautious, entitled politician who seemed to think that mixing it up with the electorate was a task that was beneath her. You almost expected to see her wearing latex gloves while out shaking hands with the people, and the way she showed her teeth was more grimace than smile. It takes a very special kind of politician to lose a 30 point lead to a republican in Massachusetts. Coakley seemed to be a great AG, but she belongs in politics about as much as I do. Talk about a charisma vacuum. It’s as though someone took Mike Dukakis, rolled him in with John Kerry, and then drained what little charm remained, if any.
On the other side you had Brown, driving from town to town in his battered pickup truck with 200,000 miles on it. He seemed to genuinely enjoy getting out and asking people for their vote. He’s as off the cuff and thrown together as Mitt Romney is shined and polished. While Brown was on television every day with his ads showing him in the family kitchen talking to you like a neighbor, Coakley was nowhere to be seen, only responding eventually with a barrage of negative ads.
As far as why Brown won, as always in politics, it’s as complicated as trying to design a flow chart on why someone falls in love. Lame lazy de facto incumbent meets eager, good looking refreshing challenger. A bad economy where the working people (those who are left) are asked to pay for someone else’s –war, bailout, healthcare, etc. We love an underdog in this country. But bottom line is that the country found out what we in Massachusetts have known for a long time. It’s the independents who rule this state. We elected Bill Weld and Mitt Romney not as republicans, but as a repudiation to an entrenched one party system. Same with Brown. We’re not a blue state, we’re not a red state, we’re a purple state.
After Brown’s rambling victory speech in which he seemed star struck at the idea of talking to the president, being onstage with Doug Flutie, and mentioning more than once that his daughter is available, I’ll bet that first twinge of buyer’s remorse may have flickered across many minds. There’s a big difference between politics and governance.