Republican Winning Teddy Kennedy Seat?

Scott Brown Martha Coakley PhotoA new Public Policy Policy survey shows a shocking result in the special election to replace the late Teddy Kennedy in Massachusetts:

Buoyed by a huge advantage with independents and relative disinterest from Democratic voters in the state, Republican Scott Brown leads Martha Coakley 48-47.

This naturally has Republicans excited, with Ed Morrissey, Dan Riehl, Michelle Malkin, William Jacobson, and others excited by the opportunity for a huge upset.  It would be pretty sweet for a variety of reasons.

Could it happen?  Perhaps.  Special elections are notoriously unpredictable, since there aren’t a ot of other interesting races on the ballot to encourage people to turn out.  And, by most accounts, Brown has run an engaging campaign while Coaxley has been horrendous.

Still, this is Massachusetts.  And Teddy Kennedy’s seat!

Oh, and it’s worth pointing out that the latest Rasmussen poll, taken January 4th, has Coakley up by 9.    And all the older polls show a Coakley blowout.  But two Boston media polls about to be released reportedly show wide variance, one with Brown leading slightly and one with Coakley up by 15.

538’s Tom Schaller explains the craziness:

Senate elections are to me the most fascinating in American politics because, from an intergovernmental perspective, they are contests for federal office conducted on a statewide level but often with significant local factors at play. Other than the seven smallest states that elect their lone, at-large House member statewide, Senate contests are unique in this way. One reason that presidential results tend to be rather consistent across cycles, especially of late, is that candidate factors–aside from home-state connections–are essentially held constant across the states, making the result a purer referendum on the ideological-partisan identity of each state. But because every Senate race has its own candidates and campaigns, and the elections themselves are staggered, Senate delegations can split in a way Electoral College results–Maine and Nebraska aside–cannot.


Coakley–who, and maybe this is just me, bears a resemblance to former Democratic veep nominee Geraldine Ferraro–will probably hang on to win, maybe even by a comfortable margin. But the Republicans couldn’t be better situated. This is not a regularly-scheduled race in a presidential cycle, or even a regularly-scheduled race in a lower-turnout midterm cycle. It’s a special election in January of a midterm cycle year in which the Democrats have unified control of the state and national governments at a time of voter unease. If lower turnouts in midyear cycles tend to help Republicans, turnout during a special election on a (cold?) January day could be even worse and, thus, less likely to favor Coakley.

Further compounding the situation is the very short turnaround time Coakley, as nominee, has had to establish herself and her campaign operation during the holiday-interrupted, six-week sprint between winning the nomination on December 8 and the upcoming January 19 special general election. All else equal, a longer period between primary and general dates probably favors the stronger state party, much in the way that the better team during a 162-game baseball season often loses in a short playoff series. So the timing of the special election actually works two ways against Coakley and the Democrats.

If I had to bet the house on it, I’d go with the Democrat in this race without hesitation.  But in a contest with what will likely be ridiculously low turnout, an upset is possible.  If it is indeed a close race — and we just don’t know given that the polls aren’t clustering — then it’s not inconceivable that the Republicans will be more motivated.

Amusingly, Jules Crittenden reports, the Democrats are hedging their bets, planning to use delaying tactics to stall Brown’s election certification until after the health care vote.  Just in case.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just me says:

    It is nice to see a republican actually be competitive in the polls, but I think the democrat still walks away with this one. I just don’t think Mass electing a republican, and if they do, the democrats elsewhere should probably start looking for a way to win this year other than blaming Bush.

    I am glad the democrat has to work for this one, but I just don’t see it going to the GOP candidate.

  2. Stan says:

    A more recent poll has Coakley 15 points ahead. By running as a strong opponent of the bill making its way through Congress, Scott Brown has helped its chance of passage. Nice work, Tea Party.

  3. steve says:

    Romney won there, so it is not impossible.


  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    Mass. electing a republican senator is about as likely as Texas electing a democrat (actually Texas had democratic senators long after Mass. had a republican). The way to bet is for the dems. And the machine will be running.

    But if a miracle happens, consider the implications for the political landscape a little more than a year after a democratic landslide and the intervening year of democrats controlling both houses and the presidency.

  5. anjin-san says:

    That polling data is a joke, sort of like the constant grasping onto Rasumussen numbers by the GOP.

  6. anjin-san says:

    A partial analysis of this race from The Cook Report.

    Massachusetts Senate: Looking for a Massachusetts Miracle
    January 7, 2010
    Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy writes: Over the past few days there has been a lot of buzz that the race in the January 19th special election to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy between Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley and Republican state Sen. Scott Brown has gotten closer. While both parties acknowledge some degree of closure, the question remains as whether Brown can pull off a Massachusetts Miracle. Doing so will require the Republican nominee to climb a very steep hill in the final days of the race, but the possibility that Coakley’s lead is now in the single digits warrants moving the race from Solid Democratic to Lean Democratic.

  7. laurie says:

    It seems to me an old nude centerfold pose may cost him with older voters and the family values crowd (it certainly would if he were a dem, and if the woman candidate had such a photo in her past she would be toast.)

  8. Wayne says:

    He showed about as much skin as Obama did on Obama’s beach photo shots. Brown was a college student at the time. Obama was Presidential candidate. Which is more relevant? Then there is Obama admitting to using drugs in his youth? Which is more relevant?