Why the GOP shouldn’t write off states like Massachusetts

For a so-called bastion of Democratic influence, Massachusetts has had a disproportionate influence on Republican politics during the past election cycle.

Mitt Romney is the obvious standard bearer for the new wave of Massachusetts moderates. Despite his rightward shift during the primaries, his performance in the first presidential debate indicates a move back toward his centrist roots. Freshman Senator Scott Brown, who has been trading places in the polls with Democratic challenger and erstwhile Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advocate Elizabeth Warren, coasted into his seat in early 2010 aided by Tea Party activists and a listless opponent, state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Since his swearing in, however, Brown has made an explicit point of noting that he is only beholden to his constituents, rather than the GOP brass or Tea Party activists. This approach has helped Brown maintain job-approval ratings above 50 percent for the duration of his time in the Senate, and his truck-driving, barn jacket-wearing persona and moderate views have solidified his support in more conservative-leaning areas, such as Massachusetts’ Sixth Congressional District.

The Sixth District is also home to a third moderate vying for a seat in the House: former state Senate minority leader Richard Tisei, who has garnered endorsements from Republican peers as lofty as Speaker John Boehner. Tisei, who is openly gay and has declared his support for both gay marriage and abortion rights, is neck-and-neck with embattled Democratic incumbent John Tierney. Tierney’s woes — his brother-in-law, who was recently sentenced to three years in federal prison for racketeering, has alleged that Tierney and his wife Patrice were accomplices in his crimes — have kept him fighting for his seat in an extremely close race. Massachusetts has not had a Republican representative in nearly two decades, and Tisei offers the GOP its best chance in years to secure a seat in Massachusetts, which is perennially pegged as the bluest of the blue states by pundits far and wide.

Despite the “People’s Republic of Cambridge” jokes and references to liberal foxhole Harvard University, Massachusetts is far more politically complex than a color-coded map would lead one to believe. Indeed, the state is residence to a high proportion of Democrats-for-life who cling to vestiges of the Camelot-tinted gauze that surrounds Massachusetts’ political history, but it also has a large number of college- or graduate school-educated suburbanites and blue-collar workers who make up its substantial independent population — nearly 50 percent of the voting public. Given that both of this year’s presidential candidates are vying for a relatively small percentage of up-for-grabs moderate and independent voters, it seems wasteful to completely dismiss a state in which the independent vote is this sizable.

Until Brown’s upset victory in the January 2010 special election to replace departed Senator Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts Republicans have struggled for attention from national party officials, who have largely left the state to the devices of the Democrats. Indeed, Brown’s campaign had trouble attracting attention early on from the NRSC and the RNC. The national party committees only jumped in when polls showed Brown gaining on Coakley, whose failure to secure the “Kennedy seat” can be attributed to one of the Democratic Party‚Äôs most entitled, laissez-faire campaigns in recent history.