The Massachusetts special election for the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry, held on June 25th, was, as Wellington said of the battle of Waterloo, “a damn close run thing.” While the Democratic candidate, Edward Markey, beat Republican Gabriel Gomez by 55% to 45%, expressing the result in percentages hides the reality of the election results in arguably the bluest state in the Union. The turnout for the elction was very low, and had the Republicans motivated another 117,909 voters to come out and vote for Gomez, the Democrats would be facing the worst debacle since Scott Brown snatched away Ted Kennedy’s seat (and control of the Senate) in 2010. There were plenty of those extra voters to find. Over 70% of the electorate stayed home, and if the Republicans had realized the possibility of victory and poured in resources, they might well have brought out the needed voters. Fortunately, the Karl Roves of the national Republican Party did not grasp the opportunity they had.
Given the rather hapless Republican candidate, a former Navy Seal, Harvard Business graduate and not so stellar venture capitalist (think Mitt Lite) , given the lack of a serious Republication organization in Massachusetts, given a war chest a third the size of Markey’s and given the personal intervention of Obama, Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama and Biden on Markey’s side, the Republican vote was outstanding. Clearly it was a motivated group of voters who understood what they were voting for: a candidate who would stand with Mitch McConnell and his merry men in their drive to destroy what little we have of a welfare state and to block any forward steps that would improve the lives of ordinary Americans. That’s the nature of the Republican Party throughout the country, and its adherents know it.
Republicans have a brand, and their supporters understand it. Would we could say the same of the Democratic Party. The lack of enthusiasm among Democrats for a colorless candidate running as close to an issueless campaign as he possibly could says much about the Democratic Party in both the nation and the state. Markey, to be kind, was simply imitating the Democratic leader in the White House, who has managed to ignore the repeated evidence that the American people are worried most about jobs and the economy. And why should they not be worried? We are five years into the worst economic slump since 1939, and we have just been told that the goal of the Federal Reserve is to reduce, by next summer, the official unemployment figure from 7.5% to (wait for it!)….. 7%!
Markey’s victory in Massachusetts was largely for the same reason that Obama won last year: the candidate didn’t stand for much but the alternative was terrifying. My guess has been that Obama won because of two events: the first was Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic convention which laid out exactly what would happen to the working and middle classes under a Republican administration and the secretly recorded talk of Romney to the fat cats in which he confirmed Clinton’s description of Republican attitudes. Of course, if Obama had addressed the most pressing fears and concerns of the people, he might have felt some need to put forth a serious program to put America back to work, and he clearly didn’t have such a program.
Full disclosure: the tiny resources of Massachusetts Social Democrats was engaged in the circulation of nominating petitions and in campaigning in the primary and special elections for Markey. Sometimes we just don’t have a choice and have to make sure that the bad guys don’t get in. Now begins the real task: to make the Democratic Party a genuine progressive instrument for addressing the needs of the people.