On Tuesday, Republican state senator Scott Brown beat Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to become the next Senator from Massachusetts. That night, I sent an e-mail to my former college professor Peter Torkildsen, one of the last Republican Congressmen from Massachusetts (he served from 1993-1997) and a former Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party. I asked him about the message voters sent out by electing Brown, the lessons Republicans can learn from the election, and whether or not this election was about national or local issues.
Below are the questions and his responses about the Brown victory he wrote "has more national implications than any other election to the U.S. Senate has ever had."
1.) Were you surprised that this election become competitive a few weeks ago?
Actually, it was becoming competitive on the ground a bit sooner, in early December. The crowds were growing at events, and people who had never worked on a campaign before were beginning to volunteer. The magnitude of outpouring of support is something that I never would have predicted - the energy level was even greater than in 1990, when Massachusetts elected a Republican governor for the first time in many years.
2.) What was the message that Massachusetts voters sent out by voting for Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley?
I see two major messages from Massachusetts voters 1. That they want Scott Brown representing them in Washington, and as part of that representation voting against the current health care bills, against cap-and-trade, and for common sense national security issues, and 2. the voters of Massachusetts rejected the Democrats politics of personal destruction campaign tactics.[# More #]
3.) What is the main lesson for Republicans from the results of the Massachusetts Senate race?
When running for office, establish who you are, and speak about the issues voters care about. On paper, running against Kennedy's health bill would seem a losing strategy. But by speaking out about the many things wrong with both the substance of the legislation, as well as all the back room deals that were promised to secure votes, Scott Brown tapped into huge voter discontent about both the bill and the process behind it.
4.) What is the political significance of Senator Ted Kennedy's seat going to the Republicans?
You cannot overestimate the significance of this. Electing Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate has more national implications than any other election to the U.S. Senate has ever had. And at the same time, it is significant for state politics in Massachusetts, too.
5.) There is a tough gubernatorial campaign coming up in Massachusetts later this year. Do you think the results of this election will foreshadow the results in that election? What about the midterms?
Charlie Baker is the leading Republican running for governor. While his chances of defeating the incumbent before last night's election were already pretty good, they improved even more with Scott's win. Charlie had been asking his donors and volunteers to help Scott.
In terms of the mid-term Congressional elections in Massachusetts, Scott's win will encourage many candidates to come forward, and we will have far more congressional candidates that we have had in recent elections. For the state senate and state house seats, many more incumbents will be challenged now, and probably not just by Republicans.
6.) Do you think Massachusetts is becoming more conservative in its leanings or was this election more about a rejection of the status quo than it was about the ideology of the voters?
Massachusetts has always had a healthy skepticism about taxes and political power. (The Boston Tea Party was 237 years ago). And Ronald Reagan carried Massachusetts twice, so we know there is a core of people willing to vote for a conservative candidate in some circumstances.
7.) Do you think this race was more about local issues or was this election about Obama and national issues?
It was almost certainly a combination of both. Many of the voters who turned out voted because of national issues, but it was national issues that affected them on a direct level (taxes, health care). There were also people voting on national security issues, which is definitely not a local issue. Many people were appalled when the Democrat said there weren't any more terrorists in Afghanistan, and therefore our troops should come home immediately.
8.) What credit do you give to national Republican organizations such as the NRC and the NRSC in helping to achieve victory in this race?
While the national Republican groups were not active in the campaign early, they definitely helped out in the final weeks, both financially, and in technology. Given the amount (several million, at least) of special interest money helping out the Democrat, the national Republican support was very important.