Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fun With Graphs: Why It's Different for Massachusetts Republicans in 2010

This graph illustrates what I described in my previous post: the devastating effect of the Gingrich Revolution of 1994 on Republican candidates in Massachusetts.

The GOP's last win in a Bay State Senate race came in 1972, when liberal Republican Ed Brooke trounced Middlesex County District Attorney (and future John Kerry boss) John Droney by a nearly two-to-one margin.

But while the GOP struck out in the six Senate contests between '72 and '94, the party was often competitive -- regularly breaking the 40 percent mark. Brooke would likely have been re-elected in '78 were it not for a financial scandal stemming from a messy divorce and the '84 race -- when Ronald Reagan, running at the top of the ticket, carried Massachusetts -- would have been winnable for the GOP had they not rejected the liberal Watergate hero Elliot Richardson in favor of conservative Ray Shamie in the primary. As it was, Shamie gave Kerry a scare in the race for Tsongas' open seat.

Kerry also was somewhat vulnerable in 1990, a strongly anti-incumbent year when Republicans claimed the governorship and the state Treasurer's office, but survived thanks to the high negatives of his Republican opponent, Jim Rappaport. And then there was 1994, when the Kennedy family scandals of the early '90s and an anti-Democratic national tide briefly gave then-unknown Mitt Romney a lead over Ted Kennedy.

Betweeen 1972 and 1994, Republican Senate candidates averaged 42.125% of the vote in Massachusetts.

Then came the Gingrich Revolution. Yes, Republican Bill Weld nearly defeated Kerry in 1996, but the story of that race was the profound drag that his party label represented. Weld's popularity was astronomical -- he'd shattered records by winning re-election with 71% of the vote in 1994 -- and far outpaced Kerry's. And early polls gave Weld the lead. Prior to 1994, he would have won the race. Instead, he lost by seven points. On the same day, Bill Clinton crushed Bob Dole in the state by 33 points. Just eight years earlier, George H.W. Bush come within eight points of winning the state.

And since Weld, the GOP has had nothing. They couldn't come up with a credible candidate in 2000 (their recruit, Jack E. Robinson, proved a thorough embarrassment and was publicly abandoned by party leaders) and let Kerry run unopposed in 2002.

In the five Senate elections of the Gingrich/Bush era, the Republicans averaged just 24% of the vote in Massachusetts Senate elections. Make no mistake: if the current election had been held two years ago, Scott Brown would be lucky to crack 30%.

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