Republicans are an endangered species in the Massachusetts, where Democrats enjoy a three to one advantage in voter registration. Ever since the national Republican Party became identified with evangelical Christianity and the accompanying hard-line positions on social issues, Republicans have become personae non gratae to Bay State voters, losing all but two of the 75 statewide elections held since 2000. Despite these political headwinds and his recent loss to challenger Elizabeth Warren, Brown should win the upcoming special election to replace John Kerry. The shorter time frame of the special election format benefits Brown, and presumptive Democratic nominee Ed Markey is a weaker candidate than Warren was.
Like Warren, Markey is an ardent liberal who is a champion for what Howard Dean once called “the Democrat wing of the Democrat Party.” Unlike Elizabeth Warren, whose liberalism was concentrated in an area — antagonism toward unpopular investment banks — that appeals even to otherwise moderate voters, Markey’s liberalism will have little appeal outside of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. His signature issue, implementing a cap-and-trade system to reduce national carbon emissions, is easy fodder for attack ads portraying it as a tax on working families. Markey’s broader legislative history reads like a checklist of laughable liberalism: supporting a nuclear freeze during the Cold War, opposing free trade even in the era of globalization, calling for federal regulation of Google Maps, and voting against certifying the 2004 presidential election results based on the conspiracy theory that George Bush’s campaign rigged the voting machines in Ohio. Massachusetts is a liberal state, but Markey’s record will allow Brown to pick up the votes of many moderate Democrats, just as he did in the 2010 special election where he defeated Martha Coakley.
Since this will be another special election, Markey will have a much harder time than Warren did at connecting Brown to national Republicans. In the 2012 campaign, Brown suffered irreparable damage from the behavior of Republicans like Todd Akin, whose bizarre statements about so-called "legitimate rape" lent credence to Warren’s warning that electing any Republican, even a likable one like Brown, could bring about the end of abortion rights in their entirety. In this election, Brown will able to make his pro-choice position clear without doubts being raised due to the troglodyte wing of the Republican Party. Beyond the messaging advantages, the special election format benefits Brown with its shortened time frame, which gives Markey less time to boost his name recognition, and the projected lower turnout from heavily Democratic demographic groups like younger voters and urban residents.
Ultimately, the key to this election is crossover voters. Given the registration advantage, Markey will win if he can hold the Democratic voters and pick up even one-third of independents; while Brown needs to win about 20% of Democrats in order to be victorious. That’s a tall order for any politician, but Scott Brown did it against Martha Coakley and he can do it against Ed Markey.