Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Tuesday Massachusetts Miscellany [UPDATED]

Is there a better political story than the Brown/Coakley special election in Massachusetts? This is a much more exciting contest than either of the playoff games on Sunday. The latest (and last) Public Policy Poll has Brown up by 5 points, the Merriam River Group has him up by 9.7% and a Massachusetts bellweather city poll has him up by 15 points. This live graph is a composite of all polls:

While those crossed hockey sticks are pretty compelling, the outcome remains uncertain. Nate Silver explains why...
"It's certainly tempting to take the Ockham's Razor argument for Brown -- "look at the trendlines, duuuude!" -- which has become the conventional wisdom even if nobody is saying it. And it's perhaps just as tempting to play the role of the contrarian, sort of buy the rumor and sell the news, and insist that Coakley will leg it out. But for the time being -- and subject to change based on last-minute polling -- I'm not comfortable with any characterization of this race other than too close to call."
... then expands on the risks of trendspotting here. Charlie Cook, like Nate Silver still calls it a toss-up, but unlike Nate, is leaning to Brown. Regardless of whether you agree or trust their political leanings, these are smart analysts. I suspect they are right and this will be a very close race. After all, this is still Massachusetts.

The simple reality is this: Boston is a Democratic party machine city, and Massachusetts is a Democratic state. A political machine is designed to manufacture votes. I am not talking about anything illegal, I am just talking about basic old style, precinct by precinct footwork, “walking around money”, busloads of voters rounded up and driven to the polls, preachers in the pulpits delivering the flock, etc. No matter how large the enthusiasm gap in a campaign, nothing can get out the vote more effectively than an army of foot soldiers on the ground manning a well oiled political machine. The question in Massachusetts is whether the machine was ready to go, or if they can crank it up fast enough now that they know they have a problem. OTOH, if the foot soldiers decide to change teams or desert their posts, the machine does not work as well. Another question is whether Libertarian candidate Joseph Kennedy will siphon a couple of percentage points from Brown (or Coakley). This election cannot be predicted and will likely be a nail biter. Maybe even Al Franken close and settled in the courts.

The last big effort to turn back the Scott Brown tide was in evidence all weekend. It had two tracks, a high road, and a low road.

On the high road, President Obama arrived to headline a rally of Democratic Party luminaries stumping for Martha Coakley. Among them, Representative Patrick Kennedy, who explained that, a vote for Scott Brown is really a vote for George W. Bush, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino who denounced the "dot coms" that are pouring money into Browns campaign. Scott Brown held a competing event, billed the "Peoples Rally" where he drew as big a crowd as the president, favoring local heroes like Curt Schilling and Doug Flutie over Republican pols. His comments from the rally here.

On the low road, the Massachusetts Democratic Party distributed a glossy mass mailer falsely claiming that Scott Brown wants hospitals to turn away rape victims. It was denounced by liberals and conservatives alike and may prompt a defamation lawsuit. Closer to the norm of electioneering partisan nonsense, a 2008 you tube clip with Brown questioning whether Obama's mother was married was widely distributed across the left-o-sphere. The intent was apparently to link Brown to birthers. The charge itself was quite a reach, and didn't stick, but not for lack of trying. Even a Nobel Prize winning economist chose to cheapen his New York Times column, using it as a platform for distributing this pure partisan hackery.

Byron York of the Washington Examiner concludes that the electorate's preference for divided and balanced government is one of "Two factors will decide Massachusetts Senate race":"
"After all the speeches, politicking, and attack ads, there are just two issues that will determine the winner of the Massachusetts Senate seat in Tuesday's special election. The first is health care and the second is one-party government. And in Massachusetts, neither issue works exactly as outsiders might think -- and right now both are working in favor of Republican Scott Brown... And for the independent voters who will play a critical role in Tuesday's election, Massachusetts' one-party rule mirrors the one-party rule in today's Washington, where national Democrats are deciding important issues among themselves without even the pretense of including Republicans... Given the uniqueness of Massachusetts politics, voters' feelings about the top two issues in this election -- health care and one-party rule -- seem unlikely to be affected much by outside appeals, whether they be from President Obama, former President Clinton, or former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who campaigned for Brown on Friday. What do those outsiders have to add to the public's understanding of how the issues play out in Massachusetts? State voters have their own distinctive perspective, and that is what will guide their decision on Tuesday."
HOPE floats. I am getting a tingly feeling in my leg.


Nate Silver throws in the towel – 538 Model Posits Brown as 3:1 Favorite.

The post-mortems, cries, lamentations, and rending of garments begin. Even while the "corpse" is still breathing.

UPDATE: 19-January-2010

This is what I'm tracking: The prediction market showed Brown with an 80% probability of winning early, dropping to 60% (a big bet on Coakley?) now rising again back over 80%. If you buy into the notion that a robust prediction market with real people betting real money is the best poll, this looks like a done deal.

For fun, I am also following Professor Jacobson's Live Tuesday comment feed at Legal Insurrection and Stacy McCain at The Other McCain - just to revel in the excitement and energy.

I hope this political wave makes it to the left coast. Time for Babs to go.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Tully said...

Krugman is a reliable indicator of overt hackery.

Before the GOP gets too overjoyed about a (likely/possible) Brown victory, they should take close note of what's driving it -- a profound popular (and populist!) dissatisfaction with the corruption and money-sucking size of the federal government and the entrenched elites in BOTH parties who enable it.

mw said...

Maybe I am naive, but I was actually surprised that the NYT would let Krugman get away with that. That bit was so obviously distributed out of Axelrod's political office, it makes the NYT look like an extension of the propaganda ministry. But then the NYT also published Kristol's crap, so there you go.

Regarding the motivation of the Brown voters, I can only hope you are right. If people get angry and consistently vote against the party with the most entrenched power in DC, my job here is done.

With a swing vote that consistently votes to keep this government divided, we can keep the government under control.

Thanks for stopping by. Haven't seen much of you at the Donk lately.

Tully said...

OK, so maybe you're a bit naive about the NYT...but IMHO Krugman jumped the hackery shark years ago, with the apparent cheering-on of the NYT editorial staff and ownership. The cracks are just becoming more obvious.

I am ALL for divided government. I hope I'm right about the Brown voter motivations. It's an accurate reflection of what I've been hearing from Tea party types in my neck of the woods, but this isn't Massachussets.

Republicans are, of course, making much hay out of the Brown victory. My caveat still applies, the same one I offered to the Dems a year ago. Do not mistake extreme voter dissatisfaction with the other guys as amounting to satisfaction with YOUR guys. What's being repudiated is business-as-usual in Washington, and when I say this is a populist uprising that's exactly what I mean -- the people are damn good and fed up with the elites, regardless of their party.

Yeah, I'm kinda busy these days. On top of my usual stuff there's Congressional primaries for paying clients who aren't wingnuts. :-)

Tully said...

Just a quick phone-sent follow-up. For example of the NYT editorial bias, read today's op/ed denyng the MA race was in any way a referendum on Obama, and that HC reform played no part in it. Then note the exit polling that indicates over half of MA voters based their decision at least in part on the junk HC reform in Congress. NYT looks like Kevin Spacey in Animal House....

mw said...

What are you using - iPhone? I have not yet evolved to using my Palm Pre for commenting or blogging here, although I have been documenting my golf rounds with it on my other blog (see sidebar).

Back to the NYT and my favorite favorite Nobel Prize winning hack - What I take from this: "He Wasn't The One We We've Been Waiting For", is that Krugman is still quite bitter that he was not selected as Treasury Secretary (or nominated to the Fed).

Tully said...

A Verizon HTC Touch Pro 2 with a few mods and Office Mobile. I'm not a fan of Mac's opaqueness to us more techie users who like to get into the guts of things. I hate touch-screen keyboards, and the TP2 has a real slide-out keyboard. I also have a fold-up bluetooth keyboard for the phone, which proves real useful. Don't have to lug a laptop around to get some work done! The folded mini-keyboard fits nicely in my portfolio case.

You may be right about bitterness. Krugman is indeed an accomplished theoretical economist, it's just that all goes out the window once he gets to politics and his keyboard. He tries to use the "authority" of that expertise to validate his political opinions, but it doesn't wash. More than once I've caught him directly contradicting econ textbooks he wrote himself to promote his "message." Pretty much the definition of hackery.