Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Those who are shocked at the outcome of the Massachusetts Senate race because they believe Massachusetts has been unswervingly liberal since dinosaurs roamed the earth need to be reminded of how well George Wallace did in the 1976 Democratic presidential primary:

"Disaffected voters who were ... likely to distrust the government." Sound familiar? Teabaggers -- in 1976!

Remember, this was just four years after Massachusetts gave George McGovern his only state victory against Nixon. (And note that the winner in '76 wasn't Jimmy Carter -- he came fourth -- but, rather, Scoop Jackson, the quintessential Cold War Democrat. Carter said Jackson also exploited the busing issue. As a Boston native who remembers the "white flight" set off by busing, I strongly suspect that many of those anti-busing voters in Boston, or their kids, now live in the very suburbs where Scott Brown yesterday outpolled John McCain in '08 by 15% or more.)

There have always been a lot of Reagan Democrats in the Massachusetts mix -- in fact, Reagan won the state twice. Those voters didn't vote for Kennedy and Kerry and Dukakis because they saw those candidates as flaming lefties, but because they didn't.

Massachusetts has had a Republican governor for 26 of the past 45 years. And its Democrats haven't always been liberal -- John Silber, who lost a squeaker to William Weld in the 1990 governor's race, was a close friend of William Bennett who almost got a gig as secretary of education in the Reagan administration (Bennett got the job instead); he compared Jesse Jackson to Hitler once and argued for draconian cuts in welfare; he ran to Weld's right on social issues.

Oh, and the Democrat who temporarily drove Michael Dukakis from the governor's office in 1978 was Ed King, a right-winger Ronald Reagan called his "favorite Democratic governor."

Early polls in the 1994 Senate race between Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney had it as a dead heat, though Kennedy went on to run a strong campaign and won handily. John Kerry had to outdebate William Weld to win a 7-point victory in the 1996 Senate race. And Niki Tsongas struggled to beat Republican Jim Ogonowski in a special election to fill her husband Paul Tsongas's old House seat in 2007.

So what does it mean to say that Massachusetts is, or has been, "solid blue"? Why did so many people involved in Coakley's race think it was impossible to lose?

And hell, I now live in "solid blue" New York City -- where Democrats have lost five straight mayoral elections and the state may elect a Republican governor and senator this year. So what the hell does "solid blue" even mean?

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