BOSTON — By way of encouraging participation, Gov. Deval Patrick is fond of saying that “you get the government you deserve.” Richard Tisei thinks residents in his district got the opposite, but that’s a different story.
Party enrollment in Massachusetts may be on the decline, but Democratic voters turned out in a big way on Tuesday, delivering a decisive rebuke to their former governor in a state that admittedly was never really on the table for Mitt Romney. He even lost his hometown of Belmont by an almost 2-to-1 margin.
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown also got the bad news that his career in the Senate will be over after three years, instead of the traditional six – at least for now. “There are no obstacles that we can’t overcome, and defeat is only temporary,” Brown said, during one of the most upbeat concession speeches you could ever hear from a candidate who just lost.
With President Obama and Elizabeth Warren on the top of the ticket, Election Day churned up a blue wave of support for Democrats seeking public office. Warren can now be called Sen.-elect instead of professor, Joseph Kennedy III is bringing his family name back to Congress, and House Democrats bolstered their already overwhelming majority in the Legislature by picking up a net gain of three seats. This election cycle featured an unusual distinction – Democrats were more likely to lose to Democrats than Republicans in legislative contests.
Warren got off to a rocky start as the junior senator-elect from Massachusetts with an uneasy, introductory press conference on Thursday during which she gave curt, clipped answers to relative softball questions. But her campaign staff suggested she was just exhausted, and will likely get a pass unless her performance becomes a trend.
Thirteen new House members will be sworn in come January, all but one of them Democrats. The Senate has three new Democratic members who won open seats, including Joan Lovely, Kathleen O’Conner Ives and Michael Barrett. And Senate incumbents held serve, including Senate President Therese Murray who recovered from her tight 2010 matchup against Tom Keyes to win easily in a rematch on Tuesday. Republican Leonard Mirra’s open seat victory way up near New Hampshire was the lone bright spot for the MassGOP.
And in the stunner of the election, embattled U.S. Rep. John Tierney held on to win re-election over former Senate Minority Leader Tisei, begging the question that if a socially moderate, pro-choice Republican like Tisei can’t win a congressional seat, who can?
“This has been a long, hard-fought battle and I believe that the voters deserve better representation in Washington. That’s why I ran. Nonetheless, the election results are now fully in and Congressman Tierney retains a narrow lead. I congratulate him on his victory,” Tisei said in statement the day after the election, barely concealing his disdain for the outcome.
Tierney’s victory was not unlike that of Auditor Suzanne Bump in 2010 in the sense that both were down-ballot Democrats with tough Republican challengers who benefited from the strong turnout for the candidates at the top of their party’s ticket. Libertarian Daniel Fishman’s presence on the ballot — and his 4 percent haul — also could have played a factor in a race decided by 3,650 voters, or less than 1 percent.
Meanwhile, voters decided to heap another sensitive regulatory issue on the plate of the Department of Public Health, already reeling from debacles at a state crime lab and poor pharmacy oversight. The sanctioning of medical marijuana in Massachusetts has raised questions about DPH’s ability to prevent abuse. Patrick said he still has confidence in DPH to get the pot issue right, but he also said there’s bound to be a learning curve.
No matter how “frustrated” officials say they are with the fact that two “Right to Repair” laws are now on the books, lawmakers and Patrick will have to figure out how to deal with that after Question 1 passed. Support for “Death with Dignity” collapsed in recent weeks and Question 2 went down in a narrow defeat.
In elections, there are often winners and losers beyond the candidates whose names appeared on the ballot, so here are a few takeaways from Tuesday’s vote:
John Walsh: Under Walsh’s leadership, the Democratic Party in Massachusetts has fully regrouped after its self-described embarrassing loss in 2010 when Ted Kennedy’s seat fell into Scott Brown’s hands. On election night at Warren headquarters, credit for Walsh and the ground game he assembled turning out voters for candidates up and down the ticket overflowed. The John Walsh-era of Democratic politics in Massachusetts has been cemented.
Steven Tolman: While sidelined for much of the year while he waited for his cooling off period to end after leaving the state Senate to take over the AFL-CIO, Tolman campaigned hard for Democrats this cycle and showed that the political obituaries being written for the Bay State labor movement might have been premature. The influence of unions on the election could spill over to the next legislative session when Tolman will be allowed back to the State House, this time to lobby his former colleagues.
Sen. John Kerry: Not just because of the time he spent campaigning for Elizabeth Warren and acting the role of Mitt Romney in debate prep for the president, Kerry’s stock to become secretary of state may be on the rise. With Democrats increasing their majority in the U.S. Senate to 53 (plus two independents likely to caucus with Dems), Obama may be less reticent to tap Kerry’s when Hillary Clinton steps down, knowing that the possibility of the seat landing in Republican hands won’t tilt the balance of power.
David Paleologos: The Suffolk pollster caught some flak after saying that he would stop polling in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina because they were lost causes for the president, only to have Obama pull out victories in Virginia and Florida on election day. He was somewhat redeemed, however, when Warren topped Brown by 8 points on Tuesday. Paleologos’s last poll in the race had Warren by seven, and for the second straight Massachusetts Senate race, Paleologos had it right.
The GOP and Bob Maginn: The Bay State GOP was swept in 2010 for statewide offices, but there was a silver lining in that election as House Republicans doubled their numbers. The hope heading into Tuesday was that they could hold their ground, and maybe pick up a seat or two in the Legislature. Instead, they lost a net of three seats in the House and remain at just four in the Senate. “We’re taking on water,” one staffer said on Tuesday night as the returns were coming in. Maginn, overseeing his first election as party chairman, seemed MIA for much of the cycle, his deputy Peter Blute becoming the more prominent public face of the party. Romney’s legacy on Republican politics in Massachusetts also took another hit, his coattails proving to be as short as his ill-fated attempt in 2004 to revitalize the party’s ranks in the Legislature by running an entirely unsuccessful slate of candidates across the state. For the GOP, it’s time to regroup. Again.
Charlie Baker: Publicly undecided about his future, there’s not a person in Massachusetts who doesn’t think Baker wants another crack at the Corner Office. Warren’s victory over Brown on Tuesday, however, clouds his prospects for a clear shot at the Republican nomination. Should another U.S. Senate seat not open up, or if Brown doesn’t run for it, the popular Wrentham Republican might consider a return to state politics, and the open governor’s race could be the only other enticing option for him.
Eric Fehrnstrom: Since leaving journalism, Mitt Romney’s former communications director and political strategist has made quite a name for himself in GOP political circles. Romney’s political career is now likely over, but Brown, Fehrnstrom’s other high-profile client, could yet find an opening for redemption. Fehrnstrom also did get Romney to within striking distance of the White House, so with more free time on his hands maybe he can help the state party rebuild.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Blue wave leaves Downtown Scotty Brown stranded on the beach, Mitt Romney’s record falls to 1-3. Speculation on 2014 already kicking up.
#BHMOST BEAUTIFUL: After Tuesday, politicos needed a break from the high-stakes drama of the election. Enter “Beacon Hill’s Most Beautiful.” The Wednesday release of the joint Phoenix/MassterList effort showcasing 25 stylish government insiders gave staffers and lawmakers alike something do in their post-election-night haze. Opinions, both positive and negative, were in ample supply. But if someone on Beacon Hill tells you they haven’t seen it, they’re probably lying.