The unthinkable has occurred, and Democrats are reeling.
A Republican is now the junior Senator from the state of Massachusetts.
Backed into a corner, scared, and desperate, Democrats are also trying to accomplish something no one thinks is possible—to spin a Coakley loss in their favor.
Having been handily shellacked last night—five points in an election like that is no small margin—what are they to do?
David Axelrod, one of the president’s top advisors, was ahead of the curve early last night. Already predicting a Brown win, he lauded the campaign’s mechanics as opposed to its message. “As a practitioner in politics, my hat’s off to [Brown],” he said. Apparently Mr. Axelrod believes Sen.-elect Brown ran a “clever” campaign.
The intention here, of course, is to diminish the cultural and political overtones and national impact of a race that, well, is very much about culture, politics, and the state of the nation writ large.
Mr. Axelrod also attempted, somewhat less successfully, to further denationalize the race by citing “local issues” for Brown’s late-in-the-game surge. Though the fact that there hasn’t been a Republican senator from Massachusetts since the 1970s does a lot to easily deflate that notion.
Local issues? I don’t think it was voters’ new-found love for the conservative perspective on fishing regulation or snow removal that ultimately put Scott Brown over the top.
Next for Democrats would be to try and throw each other under the Coakley’s campaign bus, now heading out of Boston. Check.
At the more ground-zero level, a recently-leaked memo from the Coakley campaign cited DNC and DSCC failure to support her in the way she needed. “[Because of] the failure of national Democrats to support Coakley,” the memo reads, “she was forced to devote significant time to fundraising in December,” etc., etc., etc. Summed up: “It’s not my fault.”
Well, the DNC and DSCC is having none of that. A top DNC official who declined to be identified called the Coakley campaign “the worst case of political malpractice in history,” and that the leaked memo a grossly misleading collection of “lies and fantasies – The DNC and DSCC did everything they were asked and have been involved in the race for several weeks,” etc., etc., etc. Summed up: “It’s your fault!”
Perhaps refreshingly, some Democrats more in tune with reality and considerably more wary of what a Brown victory means for the viability of health care reform, had words of caution for Congressional leadership. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) warned that “if you lose Massachusetts and that’s not a wake-up call, there’s no hope of waking up.”
Democrats should take an important lesson from Mr. Bayh, who seems considerably more brass-tacks when it comes to what happened in the Bay State last night. This bottom-line thinking is what the Democrats will have to embrace if they have any chance at all of salvaging what’s left of health care reform.
And all the while, I wonder what the president and Congressional Democrats in Congress are making of the fact that, according to official exit polling, 52 percent of voters in last night’s election surveyed at the polls said that they considered the current health care legislation the reason they opposed the Martha Coakley.
If Democrats thought it impossible – unthinkable! – that one of their own would lose Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, they should think again and get ready for November.
Republicans are about to show them the art of the possible.
Nick Fitzgerald is a young public relations professional working in Washington, D.C. A classical music buff, he also authors a blog, Bach & Tonic, on politics, music, and culture.