Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why all politics is local

Here in Massachusetts, a Senate race that wouldn be in most cases a blowout for the Democrat (as usual) has turned into a nail-biter.  The result on Tuesday is completely up for grabs.  Looking at the two candidates, the Democrat (Attorney General Martha Coakley) has a solid track record of accomplishment and the Rebublican (State Senator Scott Brown) has a history as pretty much a speedbump.  Why is it so close?  Here's a few of the reasons:

National issues: The shine is off Obama as reality has begun to set in.  Though the economy has improved, it's not enough to keep him at his peak popularity.  And the messy business of governing means that a lot of his election rhetoric hasn't come to pass.  This reflects poorly on Coakley by association, and the lack of Democratic unity (as usual) means that slow progress continues.

The Teabagger Factor: Scott Brown has wingnut appeal.  He's pretty far right (hell, by Massachusetts standards he's a jackboot-wearer), and so the nuts are out for him.

The Local Factor: Here in Massachusetts, we've almost always been a one-party state except we like to elect Republican governors to pretend we've got balance.  We all hate Beacon Hill but we like our legislator.  The reality is that frustration with the Legislature's been building steadily for years, and though Coakley's a constitutional officer instead of a legislator she's seen as part of the problem.  Brown, on the other hand, is an actual state Senator - but there aren't even enough Republicans in the state Senate to affect a veto (5 out of 40).  He doesn't really show up at all.

The Arrogance Factor: Coakley won easily in the primary election, with all assuming that meant an easy win in the final.  But the primary was really just a test of early organization, and Coakley had been in the race since before Kennedy died.  She's only taken it seriously for about the last week.

The Payback Factor: One of the big X-Factors in this race.  In the 1980s and 90s, a number of high-profile cases were tried here that Coakley was a factor in - most notably the Fells Acres daycare abuse case.  As DA, she worked hard even in the face of overwhelming evidence to try and keep the Fells Acres operators behind bars.  And she still sees the decision to push to keep the Amiraults behind bars as a correct one.  I'm one of a lot of people who take that one personally.