CAMBRIDGE — There’s a frenetic energy in the air as the election season enters into its final weekend and candidates zig and zag from one end of the state — or their district — to the other, in a last push to get out the vote and maybe sway those few remaining undecided voters.
But here inside the district office of U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, set between two big department stores in the Cambridgeside Galleria, there’s an unusual tranquility. Staffers sit calmly at their desks; the only noise the hum of the air conditioning. Capuano enjoys the luxury of running unopposed for his seat in the Eighth District, the only member of the all-Democratic Congressional delegation to be so fortunate.
Because even Massachusetts lawmakers are not being spared the anti-Democrat, anti-incumbent anger that is sweeping the country, with forecasts showing the Republicans likely to take control of the House. The most closely watched race in this state is in the 10th district, where polls show Democrat Bill Keating and Republican Jeff Perry in a statistical tie to replace retiring Rep. William Delahunt.
But Capuano predicts that, in the end, all of his colleagues will manage to hold onto their seats. “I think if you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago, I might have felt differently,” he says, “this current wave of anger will drive all our numbers down; it won’t drive them down enough to lose.”
Even if Capuano is right and the Massachusetts Congressional delegation emerges intact on November 3rd, he would return to a different House on Capitol Hill. Political analysts say a Republican majority would leave the House more partisan than ever, the differences between the right and left even sharper, and the prospects of finding middle ground on key pieces of legislation even more grim.
That’s exactly what Capuano thinks would happen, for two reasons. “No. 1, the potential speaker, the Republican speaker, John Boehner, has already said, publicly, that he expects to work with Democrats less than ever before,” Capuano says. “No. 2 is stop and think about who’s getting elected. Most of the moderate Republicans were defeated in primaries. They’ve been ridding themselves of anybody who could reach across the aisle.”
Capuano points to Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware as the prime example. “In the House, Mike was a pretty solid Republican, but he was a moderate one,” he says. “We all knew we could talk to him, had a chance of getting him to maybe help us on a given issue even if we had to compromise on it, and they killed him in the Delaware primary and gave us Christine O’Donnell.”
As a general rule, Capuano says, this year’s Republican candidates are running as crusaders, not as consensus builders.
And one of the promises those candidates have made on the campaign trail is rolling back the national health care law — “ObamaCare” as its opponents like to call it. Capuano foresees a rollback passing in a Republican-controlled House, which would only require a majority vote, but is hopeful the 60-vote rule in the Senate would prevent an actual repeal of the bill.
Beyond national health care, Capuano says “everything that I believe in” would be at risk if Republicans take control of the House. “Most notably tax and economic policies,” he says. “I think they will go back to the idea that all tax cuts are sacrosanct — you have to cut everybody’s taxes — which I think is ridiculous, I think we have to have money to run the country.”
With those tax cuts would come significant and serious cuts in programs, Capuano says. He also predicts less movement to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. “I think it’ll be worse than the Bush years,” he says, in that Republicans will have learned from their mistakes and so be even more determined to carry out their agenda.
“There’s a part of me that hopes that if they win this election, they actually follow through on the things that they have said,” he says. “I think it’s fair to the American people to see what that brings. And I think if that happens, the American people will then say, woah, we didn’t mean that.”