Renée Loth

Shoe leather beats money, voter anger

By Renée Loth
November 6, 2010

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TIDYING UP after the political storm:

The state Democratic Party needed to prove that Scott Brown’s upset election to the US Senate in January was a kind of fever that swept over Massachusetts — and had broken. To that end, it ran a massive “coordinated campaign’’ urging voters to cast ballots for a Democratic slate — a rather old-fashioned approach at a time when most voters say they choose the person, not the party.

It was a shoe-leather effort, and it worked. Massachusetts held back the Republican tide rising across the country. This proved especially difficult in the many local races that were “nationalized’’ — attracting massive amounts of attention and money from groups with few ties to Massachusetts. Republicans picked up a few state House seats, but still make up only about 18 percent of the Legislature.

Barney Frank, a big target of the national Republicans this year, was characteristically tart in his victory speech: “At least in Massachusetts we have repudiated unreasoning anger, vituperation, [and] anonymous smears,’’ he said. Voters who take pride in the state’s exceptionalism can dust off that old bumper sticker: “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts!’’

Baker: What went wrong? Ever since he went to work in state government 20 years ago, the wunderkind of the Weld administration has been a great hope of the state Republican Party. Liberal on social issues, conservative fiscally, a turnaround artist with business savvy and policy credentials, Baker seemed an ideal match for Massachusetts.

But this wasn’t the Charlie Baker most voters got to see. I have known Baker since he was a graduate student, and he is a better person than his campaign would suggest. Baker was badly served by his handlers, who gave him a meaner, harsher edge than was natural — railing about welfare cheats and illegal immigrants and holding secret meetings with Paul Loscocco on the eve of Loscocco’s classless defection from his running mate, Tim Cahill. Of course, the candidate allowed himself to be so used, and needs to take “personal responsibility’’ (a favorite theme when applied to others) for his defeat.

Year of the Republican Woman (not!) Inspired by Sarah Palin, Republican women — many of them new to politics — flooded into the 2010 primaries in record numbers. Palin herself launched a personal crusade to elect more Republican women, predicting “a stampede of pink elephants crossing the line’’ in November. In Massachusetts, GOP leaders pinned their best hopes on two women running for open constitutional offices: Karyn Polito for state treasurer and Mary Connaughton for auditor.

But when the dust settled, the stampede was more like a trickle. Polito and Connaughton both lost. Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada also lost their bids for high office, as did millionaire executives Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman in California, and Linda McMahon in Connecticut.

In fact, Palin’s “Mamma Grizzlies’’ storyline had started to crumble during the primaries, where Republican women fared more poorly than Democratic women. According to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, 17 Republican women ran for US Senate seats but only five won their primaries, compared to nine of the 19 Democratic women who ran.

Republican Kelly Ayotte did take a US Senate seat in New Hampshire, and Governor Nikki Haley is a rising star in South Carolina. Both had served in lower offices. In the end, voters went for experience, regardless of gender.

Hidden winners and losers In every election there are people not on the ballot who are nonetheless among the victors or the vanquished. This year’s hidden winners include Boston Mayor Tom Menino, whose political machine turned out almost as many votes as in 2006, a landslide year for Democrats. You want the man on your side.

Among the hidden losers are Scott Brown and former governor Mitt Romney, who were damaged by their association with the tarnished 10th Congressional District candidate, Jeff Perry.

Finally, a reminder that elections have human consequences: The losers include thousands struggling with alcohol and drug addiction whose treatment programs were funded through the sales tax on alcohol, which voters repealed. Even the backers of Question 1 say they hope the state will find other ways to fund these needed programs. It’s the least an exceptional state like Massachusetts can do.

Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.