I lived, and voted, in Providence, Rhode Island in 2006, and witnessed Sheldon Whitehouse win one of the state's senate seats over incumbent Lincoln Chafee, despite the fact that Chafee had a 63% approval rating at the time of the election. Why? Because Lincoln Chafee was running as a Republican in a year in which President George W. Bush was encountering stiff opposition to the War in Iraq, and he was running in a staunchly blue state. It was an election about party, and not person.
I can't help think that the current Senate race in Massachussetts is eerily similar to the 2006 Rhode Island Senate race. According to a poll released this weekend by Public Policy Polling, Scott Brown enjoys a 52% approval rating (against 36% who disapprove). Yet, he trails Elizabeth Warren by 6 points, in a trend that nearly every recent poll backs up. In a state that Barack Obama will win by a decisive numbers over "native son" Mitt Romney, it's virtually impossible for Scott Brown to win.
And so, baring a huge surprise, Elizabeth Warren will re-take the late Ted Kennedy's seat for the Democrats. But in his tenure as Senator, Scott Brown has embraced a moderate record that, frankly, is good for governing. He compromised, and voted for, the Dodd-Frank regulatory bill, ensuring that conservative principles were included in a completely Democratic bill. He remains pro-choice, and has shown a moderate foreign policy streak. He is a moderate voice in an increasingly conservative Republican caucus.
Despite all this, Elizabeth Warren will win, which for Democrats, is a good thing. And this is not to take anything away from her — she has run an effective campaign, and she is an incredibly intelligent candidate. Yet, at the same time, even her campaign recognized that the only way for her to win was to run a national campaign, getting Bay State voters to recognize that the R next to Scott Brown's name was much more important than any individual policies or stances that he might espouse.
I'm a Democrat, so I should be happy about Warren's impending victory. But we're losing a moderate voice in a Senate which will increasingly vote along partisan lines. And as senators like Olympia Snowe and Richard Lugar exit the ranks, this isn't necessarily a good thing. Scott Brown's loss will be good for Democrats. But it might not be good for the actual governance of the Senate.