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Why Mass. Could Still Be A ‘Swing State’ In 2012

BOSTON — Massachusetts is not one of the 12 presidential “battleground states.” It’s not expected to swing in opinion polls from Barack-Backer to Maybe-Mitt. But it could swing control of the U.S. Senate and have other consequences.

So don’t be fooled by this dull lull. This state will become a real battleground. Here’s why Massachusetts could have surprising political impact in 2012:

Impact On New Hampshire: Every swing state is potentially crucial and New Hampshire is no exception. Massachusetts could affect the outcome in N.H. The Boston media market reaches many N.H. voters, so presidential candidates and their surrogates will use it as a platform. And both camps have numerous supporters in Massachusetts who will do volunteer canvassing in N.H. so it will be a platform for field organization as well.

Mass. Money Machine: President Obama has had major fundraising events here, and former Gov. Mitt Romney still has a good fundraising network from his business contacts and past campaigns. The money raised here could make a difference in a close contest.

Reefer Referendum: A medical marijuana initiative is expected to be fairly popular in the state, but it will provoke a lot of debate. Perhaps more controversial will be the “Death With Dignity” initiative, known by its opponents as assisted suicide. Some voters will find these referenda more compelling than the candidate contests. Passage of one or both referenda will affect the reputation and reality of Massachusetts, for good or ill.

Romney Record: ObamaCare probably won’t be as potent an issue for the GOP since the presumptive nominee helped create a state health insurance program that seemed like a model for ObamaCare. But, to the extent that it triggers national debate, expect to hear a lot about RomneyCare in the fall. Even more newsworthy, expect a national debate about what kind of governor Romney was — specifically, how he performed in job-creation. Remember how Republicans mocked Mike Dukakis for the so-called “Massachusetts miracle”? It would be a miracle if the Democrats did not try to do the same thing to Romney. At least it would be a surprising oversight.

Sensational Senate Race: The Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren contest is expected to attract more national coverage than any Senate race in the country. It’s considered a clash of titans to politicos and reporters, but to many voters it seems like a high school popularity contest. Gaffes by Warren, and pouncing by Brown, indicate that the race will be more entertaining than illuminating. Certainly no one expects the kind of elevated discussion of issues we saw years ago in the Weld-Kerry debates. And if the “People’s Pledge” agreed to by both candidates (keeping third-party groups from running attack ads) falls apart, as many political analysts expect, the race will become a free-for-all. Regardless of whether the contest is a brawl or a yawner, it will receive a lot of coverage because the stakes are so high — the winner could ultimately decide which party controls the United States Senate.

New Kennedy Chapter?: Even if Joseph Kennedy III looks like the big favorite in polls in the 4th district, there will be plenty of national publicity about the race because he has inherited real celebrity status. While even old-time Democrats who loved the dream of Camelot realize he’s not the most inspirational leader, there’s no doubt his family will go all-out to back him, evidenced by their early fundraising success. Win or lose, the outcome will affect the image of Massachusetts — will the Kennedy legacy continue, or is Massachusetts becoming a two-party state? If Scott Brown and Joe Kennedy III both win, how quickly will we hear speculation that young Kennedy might be the Democrat to challenge Brown six years later?

Massachusetts is not a great state if you like to fantasize that your vote will decide who is elected president. But if you like political theater and debate, you are in a good place, at a good time.

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