Payne & Domke: Dems, GOP Advance In Brown's Shadow03:10

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For Massachusetts Republicans and Democrats, the first act of 2010 political drama is over — and the second begins.

The Democrats held their state convention last weekend, nominating incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick to their ticket in this fall's governor's race. The Republicans had theirs earlier, when they elected to keep Christy Mihos off the ballot, giving a green light to Charles Baker.

WBUR’s political analysts — Democrat Dan Payne and Republican Todd Domke — sat down with Bob Oakes to assess what comes next for both parties.

Dan Payne (Chase Gregory for WBUR)
Dan Payne (Chase Gregory for WBUR)

Dan Payne (D): Sen. Scott Brown’s victory did Democrats a big favor. It made Democrats in Congress get moving on health care reform, which was then signed into law. Now, it’s making Democrats everywhere run scared. No Democratic incumbent will think he or she is a shoe-in. Democrats are nervous, and in politics that can make you work harder and improve your game.

To hear Republicans tell it, Massachusetts is on the verge of a political revolution. But history shows that the GOP has been able to win the governor's office — and not much else. The last time a Republican won a state constitutional office other than governor was 20 years ago, when Joe Malone became treasurer.

I’ve been involved in state politics for 40 years. That entire time, I’ve heard Republicans say that it is the year they are coming back. Maybe this will be the year Republicans make significant gains, but I’m not betting on it.

Patrick did his part to keep the Republicans from actualizing their rhetoric at this weekend's state Democratic convention.

I’ve been involved in Mass politics for 40 years. And that entire time, I’ve been hearing the Republicans say it is the year they are coming back.-- Analyst Dan Payne (D)

Mario Cuomo said famously that you campaign in poetry and you govern in prose. This is the poetry portion of the program, and there are few better at delivering a moving speech than Patrick.

Having worked with Patrick, I’ll bet he wrote most of his speech. His best line was, “We worked hard four years ago to change the guard, now it’s up to all of us to guard the change.”

His speech wasn’t just eloquent. It was also smart. He lumped independent candidate Timothy Cahill in with Baker. Patrick needs this to be a three-way race, and he needs Cahill to get at least 20 percent of the vote to win another term.

He also wisely accused Baker and Cahill of rooting for the state to fail because it would help them politically. Putting himself in the position of a protector of Massachusetts is smart politics.

Moving on to the rest of the State House, Democrats already have huge majorities in the House and Senate. It’s possible — but not likely — that voters will choose Patrick for governor then vote for a Republican for local representative or senator.

What’s happened in the past is that voters picked a Republican for governor, such as Bill Weld or Mitt Romney, then voted for a Democrat for the Legislature. It’s a deliberate balancing act.

I don’t see Baker winning and Republicans gaining control of the Legislature. The best Republicans can hope for is for Baker to win, and Republicans win enough seats to sustain a veto by Gov. Baker.

For the state to truly go "purple" — instead of blue — the Republicans would need to have a clean sweep of constitutional offices: governor, treasurer, auditor and secretary of state. There’s already no challenge to Martha Coakley as attorney general, which is embarrassing for the Republican party. So if Patrick holds his office and Democrats win the rest of the offices, it’s a big day for Blue.

Baker has been a tepid, testy candidate who hasn’t lived up to his early billing. Cahill took a hard turn to the right and, for his trouble, he got blitzed with a million-dollar ad campaign by the Republican Governors Association.

Todd Domke (Chase Gregory for WBUR)
Todd Domke (Chase Gregory for WBUR)

Todd Domke (R): After Brown’s upset victory, Massachusetts Democrats say they are prepared for two-party competition, but they haven’t shown us anything new in strategy or message. They just talk about tactics.

The chairman of the state Democratic party, John Walsh, said his plan is to get every Patrick organizer to get 50 other organizers, and for each of those 50 to get 50, and so on. I’m a little suspicious — I think he’s trying to set up an Amway distributorship. But he says he’s doing it to get to the grassroots, because that’s how Brown won.

That might be his way to rationalize the Democrat's Senate defeat, suggesting that Brown’s victory was just because of an organizing tactic. It wasn’t that voters rejected the Democrats’ health care plan, or position on trying terrorists in civilian courts, or their trying to raise taxes, or their spending too much, or that Brown did better than Coakley in a televised debate…

No, it was because Brown supposedly had a clever organizing tactic, which the Democrats can copy while continuing with the same policies.

If that is their mindset, Democrats will suffer in the polls and at the polls. They won’t lose control of the state Legislature – there aren’t enough viable Republican candidates this time to change that — but I think we’re seeing the pendulum swinging back in Massachusetts.

Voters want two-party competition, not a one-party monopoly. They want a real choice. And that’s what Democrats have to fear, that they represent the status quo when voters want change.

If you look at your 133 standard Crayola crayon colors you’ll find “blue violet” — that’s between blue and purple. That’s where we might be in 2010.
-- Analyst Todd Domke (R)Patrick said in his speech, “We worked hard four years ago to change the guard. Now it’s up to all of us to guard the change.’’ As wordplay, that may sound poetic, but to guard the change means your mission is to protect the status quo.

It’s the same argument incumbents make routinely: “Re-elect me, I am the change.” That will inspire some people, especially those whose salaries depend on the governor’s policies, but it is not as inspirational as four years ago when he promised great reform and property tax cuts.

The 40 percent of state voters in the liberal Democratic base will think Patrick’s arguments for his re-election are credible, but it’s the other 60 percent he can’t seem to convince. He still has a very low job-approval rating. Voters don’t feel that Massachusetts is “on the move or on the mend,” as he put it in his speech.

Conservative and moderate voters know that certain sectors of the state economy are doing better, but they don’t give much of the credit to state government. They see a state government that hasn’t solved its own fiscal crisis and is still plagued by cronyism and corruption, so most voters are not impressed by the governor’s performance. He hasn’t changed the image of state government and he hasn’t changed his own image as someone who is not a hands-on problem-solver.

In the case of Cahill, yes, the governor can plausibly argue that he “will take us back to the past.” Cahill is an Old School politician, and recent exposes by The Boston Globe prove that. But I don’t think Baker personifies “the past” to most voters — mostly because they don’t even know who he is. His campaign has been very low-key.

When Baker does emerge, he will claim that Patrick represents the past four years of disillusionment, while he represents the future. He will promote himself as an agent of change and reform.

Rhetoric won’t be enough for either Baker or Patrick. We’re going to see who can control the agenda, in terms of making their issues dominant, and we’re going to see who will prevail in debate, when people see them challenge each other one-on-one.

Democratic state legislators don’t see any Patrick coat-tails — after all, he’s about 40 percent in the polls, and they need at least 50 percent. But they also don’t see him as an anchor, dragging them down. Most want distance from him. He may think it’s unfair, but most voters see him as just another disappointing incumbent.

In some elections, people want to throw the rascals out — they want change from the change they just voted for. In 2010, people don’t like career politicians.

To claim a great victory this year, Democrats need to keep control of the state Legislature above the 80 percent mark, stop Republicans from winning a congressional seat, re-elect Patrick and keep lower state offices. If they lose the governorship, lose a congressional seat and lose a lot of seats in the Legislature, they will have to admit that Brown’s win was not a fluke. They will have to acknowledge that voters want real two-party competition.

The idea of a state being blue or red came out of presidential races — whether a state would lean to one party or the other in a presidential contest. Massachusetts has three times as many registered Democrats as Republicans, so it will remain blue. It won’t be purple (toss-up) by 2012.

But if you look at your 133 standard Crayola crayon colors you’ll find “blue violet” — that’s between blue and purple. That’s where we might be in 2010. Some day our state could become “red violet” and then “brick red,” but that’s probably a few elections away.

This program aired on June 9, 2010.