Massachusetts Special Election: Healthcare Armageddon?

So tomorrow is the BIG SHOWDOWN in Massachusetts!, the CLASH of opposing ideologies!!, the BIGGEST, most STUPENDOUS!!!!, MOMENTOUS!!!!! election we’ve had since…….since….well, since the last REALLY, REALLY PIVOTAL!!! election in upstate New York — or had you forgotten about that one already?

After all the hype and hyperbole, let’s take a deep breath and remember a few things.

1. Who will win? Here on election eve, it’s not clear who will win, and many polls suggest it’ll be close. The key will be turnout, as usual. Most Americans don’t vote in special elections, and this is especially true of racial minorities and young people — which gives the Republicans reason to hope.

But most Independents don’t turnout either. And if they are the great ideological center that can swing this Senate seat the GOP’s way, then that’s a reason for Republicans to be worried.

So pay attention to reports on the size of the turnout, and on which demographic groups are showing up at the polls.

2. What will it mean if the Republicans win? The truthful answer is, we won’t know the answer to that for some time, and here’s why:

2A. Republican victories in Massachusetts are not as rare as some seem to be suggesting — their party recently had a 16-year grip on the gubernatorial mansion, for instance. Remember William Weld and Mitch Romney? So it won’t be some freaky fluke of nature if they win this one.

2B. While it’d be great for Democrats to hold on to their 60-seat majority, having 60 hasn’t exactly made governing a cake-walk for them —- they’re going to continue to struggle no matter what the outcome tomorrow.

2C. Sure, Scott Brown has said that he opposes the current health care bill making its way through Congress, but for heaven’s sake, he hails from the state that was the among the first to craft its own government-supported healthcare system — while some Democrats accuse him of being ultra-conservative and some Republicans hope that he is —– he isn’t from the Tea-Bag wing of the GOP.

2D. What kind of a Republican is he? The best answer to that question may come from a study of state legislative voting records from across the country that generates an ideological score for state legislators. And where does that study rank Scott Brown? “… two thirds of other Massachusetts Republican state legislators were more conservative than he was. This is evidence for (the) claim that he’s a liberal even in his own party. What’s remarkable about this is the fact that Massachusetts Republicans are the most, or nearly the most, liberal Republicans in the entire country!” (See the post, “Scott Brown is a Liberal”, by Andrew Gelman at “FiveThiryEight: Politics Done Right”, posted on Jan 15th, 2010.)

2E. Republicans recently won the NJ Governorship with a moderate candidate. They won the Virginia Governorship with a candidate that shied away from his most conservative positions and ran a centrist campaign. And they lost in upstate New York when they ran a fire-breathing, true-blue conservative. Scott Brown is no Doug Hoffman.

2F. Special elections are often shaped by local issues, and it can be dangerous to draw national implications based on who wins. In the last round of elections, Independent voters who supported the Republican candidates were asked if their votes represented a repudiation of the Obama Administration — 57% of them in Virginia and 60% of them in New Jersey said —- wait for it —- “NO!”. In Massachusetts, there have been a string of scandals among state Democratic policymakers and that has clearly helped the GOP fortunes.

Thoughtful citizens will be cautious about drawing any immediate conclusions of the WHAT IT ALL MEANS variety.

What can we be certain of?

No matter who wins tomorrow, after the polls close and the votes are counted, the cameras and the pundits will run to the next REALLY, REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT THING……..


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