There’s a risk for Democrats in President Obama’s decision to name John Kerry secretary of state. With Kerry giving up his Senate seat, it clears the way for a special election in Massachusetts a few months from now which, in turn, could clear the way for a comeback by Scott Brown.
It’s fair for Democrats to worry about this. Every Senate seat is precious and holding on to their majority in the 2014 midterms will be challenging–-so why risk giving one away in a blue state? Especially to a guy they just spent the last two years trying to take out?
But I have a hunch–and it’s really nothing more than a hunch–that Democrats are worrying about the wrong thing here. I don't think Brown will end up running to replace John Kerry, and that he has a different comeback in mind.
Brown was last seen losing to Elizabeth Warren by eight points, but he remains quite popular– a 58% to 28% favorable rating in a poll taken two weeks ago. Warren, believe it or not, is actually less popular–favorable score in the same poll is 54% to 37%.
This speaks to the central reason Brown lost: Massachusetts voters do not like the national Republican Party. They haven’t elected a Republican to the House since 1994, making Massachusetts the biggest state in the country with an all-Democratic delegation. They haven’t voted Republican at the presidential level since 1984, and they've only elected one Republican to the Senate in 40 years–Brown. Back in that 2010 special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat. Or, you know, the people’s seat.
Brown was able to win in ’10 in part because turnout was really, really low–and popular frustration with Obama and the ruling Democrats was really, really high. So Republicans, the few that there are in Massachusetts, flocked to the polls, and so did Independents who were angry at Obama. Obama supporters and die-hard Democrats–they weren’t as excited. Add in a self-destructive Democratic candidate–Martha Coakley – and, voila, there’s your 5-point Scott Brown win.
But then look what happened this fall. Brown was still popular, but turnout was much higher. And in a normal or high-turnout Massachusetts election, Republicans just don’t win–at least when it comes to federal office.
So if you’re Scott Brown, here’s what you’re looking at right now: You can run in the 2013 special election, and maybe you can win. But you could lose too–and if you lose once more, that could be it for you. And even if you do win, you’d just be filling the unexpired portion of Kerry’s term–meaning you’d have to run again in November 2014, when turnout will probably be up.
So maybe instead you look at another comeback option: the 2014 Governor’s race. Deval Patrick isn’t running, so the seat will be open. And while Bay State voters almost never vote for Republicans for federal office, the governorship is different–as Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci and Mitt Romney can all attest. Brown’s personal popularity would get him a lot more mileage in a race for governor than in another Senate contest.
I have no idea where his head is, but the smart play for Scott Brown is to say no to the Senate race this year and to wait for 2014. Oh, and if he does, here’s something else to look for: The Democrats would need an opponent for Brown, and right now the most popular Democrat who’s in the mix? A second-term attorney general named Martha Coakley.