Outlying strength

Suburbs carried Brown to victory

Lower turnout recorded in most cities

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / January 21, 2010

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Voters in affluent suburbs turned out in droves Tuesday to help Republican Scott Brown charge to his stunning upset win in the special US Senate election. Many voters in traditionally Democratic cities, meanwhile, stayed home, dooming the candidacy of Democrat Martha Coakley.

The results confirm what all the preelection polls showed: The enthusiasm and energy were with the Brown insurgency.

Statewide, turnout was about 54 percent of registered voters, roughly equal to a regular state election. Of the 27 towns with a turnout of 70 percent or higher on Tuesday, Brown carried 20, a Globe analysis shows. That includes wealthy bedroom communities such as Sherborn, Dover, Hingham, Cohasset, and Sudbury.

Coakley won in scattered spots where the turnout was exceptional, including Concord and Needham, one of the towns Brown represents in the state Senate. But the Coakley candidacy stumbled badly in the cities where Democrats typically roll up big margins.

Of the 25 lightest-voting communities, 18 were cities, including Boston (43 percent), Worcester (42 percent), and Springfield (32 percent). The Merrimack Valley city of Lawrence, with a majority Latino population, had the lowest turnout in the state, at 28 percent.

Coakley won those urban areas but with depressed vote totals that could not offset Brown’s huge advantage in the suburbs. The Republican swept large swaths of the state across Worcester County, the North and South shores, the Merrimack Valley, and most of Cape Cod. In Andover and North Andover, both of which went for Brown, traffic was backed up for a half-mile for long stretches as voters flocked to central polling places at the towns’ respective high schools.

In the South Shore district of Brown’s state Senate colleague Robert Hedlund, turnout was among the heaviest in the state. Brown trounced Coakley by a nearly 2-to-1 margin and built up a 21,000-vote lead in the district, which consists of the city of Weymouth and seven towns stretching south to Duxbury. Six of the eight communities had turnouts of 69 percent or higher.

“It was a spontaneous, organic outpouring from people who are angry,’’ Hedlund said. “Something was definitely percolating out there, and it’s big. There’s a lot of frustration with what’s going on in Washington and what’s happening on Beacon Hill.’’

Brown carried Worcester County by about 60,000 votes, Plymouth County by more than 50,000, and Essex County by 35,000 votes. His statewide victory margin was about 110,000 votes, or 5 percent.

In Worcester County, Coakley won the city of Worcester but by only 2,000 votes. Brown more than offset that by winning the city’s largest suburb, Shrewsbury. Coakley also edged Brown in the affluent town of Harvard, but Brown trounced her in 57 other cities and towns, many by margins of more than 2-to-1, in the big Central Massachusetts county.

It was a similar story in Plymouth County, a sea of red with one blue island on color-coded election results maps. Coakley won Brockton, but only by 2,100 votes with a 41 percent turnout in the city. Brown won the 20 towns in the county, in most cases by large margins.

Middlesex County was supposed to be Coakley’s firewall. She lives in Medford, and before becoming attorney general, she served two terms as Middlesex district attorney. But she won the county by fewer than 24,000 votes out of about 550,000 cast.

In overwhelmingly Democratic Boston, Coakley pulled 69 percent of the vote, giving her a margin coming out of the city of about 59,000 votes. She rolled up huge margins in the predominantly black and Hispanic wards of the city, but the turnout was so light that it did not give her much of a lift. In Roxbury’s Ward 12, for instance, she beat Brown, 3,529 votes to 131, a 27-to-1 margin. The turnout, however, was only 34 percent.