I know I’ve been writing about the importance of local elections lately, despite appearances, this post is no different. No, Elizabeth Warren isn’t running against Bob Corker, she’s running against Scott Brown, or whomever gets the Republican nomination in Massachusetts, assuming, of course, that she gets the Democratic nomination in the state. I won’t be able to vote for Elizabeth Warren, because she seeks to represent a state that is around 1300 miles away. I support her run, and wish her luck. She’d be a great addition to the Senate in my view.
That said, I won’t be sending any money up to Massachusetts. I probably won’t be phone banking for her (I doubt Massachusettsans would appreciate my southern drawl), and I damn sure won’t be traveling up there to canvass for her. Not only can I not afford to do it financially, I can’t afford to do it electorally. There’s plenty to do here in Tennessee.
The whole reason this is happening is because of a local election, in Massachusetts. Scott Brown won the special election on that cold January day in 2010 by just under 110,000 votes, after the death of Ted Kennedy. Just over 2.2m votes were cast in that election. Counties in the state were evenly split, 7-7.
By contrast, in the 2008 election, Obama won the state overwhelmingly, carrying all 14 of the state’s counties. The 2008 election brought out nearly 900k more voters than the 2010 election, which really shouldn’t be all that surprising considering 2010 was a special election right after the New Year.
So what happened in this characteristically “blue” state that sent what should have been a very safe seat to the Republicans? It’s not about how many people showed up, but who.
There are over 4.19m registered voters in Massachusetts according to their Secretary of State. In 2008, 3.1m of them showed up or 73.52% of all registered voters. That’s a pretty darn high voter turnout. In 2010 only 2.2m, or 53.66% of voters made it to the polls which is about average, though above average for a special election. That 900k voter difference is very close to the difference between Obama and McCain in the 2008 election.
In fact, Scott Brown got more votes in 2010 than McCain did in 2008, but just by about 23k votes. That number is significant, not because it represents crossover votes, though there may be some of those, but because it gives us a little idea about voter mood, and activation.
Massachusetts has party designations. 36.65% of the state’s voters are Democrats, 11.34% are Republicans, leaving 51.44% undesignated. The number of registered Democrats alone would have been enough to beat Scott Brown, but, for whatever reason, they didn’t turn out.
There are likely a lot of reasons that happened, but I don’t claim to have a hill of beans worth of knowledge about Massachusetts elections, except that I know they go Democratic more often than not. Further, I don’t remember much about this election except for Scott Brown’s picture in GQ or whatever that was.
What I can tell you is that there aren’t enough Republicans in Massachusetts to win an election. There are almost enough Democrats alone to win any election. Throw in the folks who don’t take a designation, which by all accounts is probably mostly Democrats who don’t vote in primaries and Democrats should have an easy ride in the state.
So how did he win? Fire in the belly. Not his fire mind you, the Tea Party’s fire. Remember, this was one of the first, if not the first real election after the ascension of the Tea Party to the status of media darling.
This is pretty high turnout. I’m sure, based on past elections, and special elections in particular, the Coakley campaign reckoned they’d need a little over a million votes to win. Guess what? They got that million votes. What they didn’t count on was an insurgent group of people who were mad as hell at government taking over their Medicare (which is still my favorite Tea Party sign).
So, Democrats didn’t turn out in the numbers they needed to, Republicans dragged people to the polls and won. I’m sure there’s more to this like Coakley’s popularity statewide and some other stuff that’s more important than I’m making it, but my real point is this. If Coakley had been shooting for 1.2m or 1.3m votes, she’d have won, pure and simple.
Looking back home to Tennessee, we’ve got a lot more challenges than they do in Massachusetts. We’ve got a Republican majority in the State legislature. We’ve got a Republican majority in our House delegation, and don’t get me started about our Senators. We’ve got a lot of work to do to close the gap for Democrats here, so I’m probably not going to spend a lot of time trying to help someone else 1300 miles away, even though it would be cool, and if I lived about 800 miles closer, I just might go out of my way to help.
And sure, Warren has shown herself to be a good progressive at the very least, and for that I support her, but I can’t give her anything more than moral support. If progressives or liberals in this state spend all our time building up progressives and liberals in other states, when will we get around to building up the few progressives and liberals that dare run for office here? Better still, how will we find more of them to run?
Truth be told, it’s not as though these people don’t exist. They’re out there, right here in Tennessee, and not just in the urban areas. They exist, but they don’t think they can win, and that is reinforced by folks who talk about how the state is this or that or the other and how no one is on “our” side, even though that “side” be ill defined.
Nope, I’ll be working to find these people and encourage them to get involved in campaigns, and network, and build the kind of support base that is required to even consider a serious run at anything. Maybe they’ll be candidates for County office. Maybe they’ll run for state office. Honestly, I don’t know, but I’ll be spending my time building what I can here, rather than exporting my time and money to Massachusetts for an election that will likely be nationalized anyway.
Does this mean I expect to see more people like me in the legislature in 2013? Nope. This takes more than one cycle to build. But if we don’t start building instead of complaining, it’ll never happen.