I think Gail Collins was right to call out Keith Olbermann for his attack on Brown. Olbermann’s defense that right wing talk show hosts have said much worse is beyond lame. And one of my favorite local pundits, Charles P. Pierce calls Brown “an empty suit” and “a liar and a coward.” Way classy, progressives.
Part of the reason for Brown’s win was his run for the Mass. State senate in 2004. Please recall that Cheryl Jacques, a popular Democrat, resigned and her chief of staff, Angus McQuilken, was favored to win her seat in a special election. This was considered all the more likely because the legislature scheduled the special election on the same day (March 2, 2004) as the Massachusetts presidential primary. Bush was running unopposed-not a big draw for the Bay State’s 480,000 Republicans, and John Kerry (more popular then than now) was on the Democratic ballot. So the thinking was that lots of D’s would vote, but very few R’s, and Brown would lose big.
Brown won by 349 votes. He won because he did five things-very similar to the things he did to defeat Coakley. First, he argued that the seat didn’t “belong” to McQuilken because he had been on Jacques’ staff. He argued that “nobody owns this seat.” Sound familiar?
Second, McQuilken was as un-charismatic as was Martha Coakley. He came across as a pudgy policy wonk. Brown used his masculine image effectively against McQuilken. Opponents referred to Brown as “Beefcake Brown,” referring to his now famous nude photos in Cosmopolitan when he was a student at Boston College. This didn’t stick then as it didn’t in 2010. We still need to come to grips with the fact that any female candidate who had posed nude would have a gigantic negative to overcome. Double standard? You betcha.
Third, Brown avoided major gaffes. (As in 2010,he made lots of minor ones, including “cringe-inducing” off-the-cuff remarks.) This was especially true of the gay marriage issue. Brown danced around it pretty deftly. This was crucial as Jacques, the first openly gay State Senator in Massachusetts history, resigned to head the GLBT Human Rights Campaign.
Fourth, Brown organized a strong GOTV effort. This was hugely important as the Mass. Republican party GOTV was very spotty in the major population centers. Brown organized his own operation and his workers made over 100,000 phone calls in the 72 hours before the special election.
Finally, although I have no breakout numbers from the March 2004 contest, Brown obviously got some Democrats to vote for him. There is no other explanation for his win in an election that clearly drew more Democrats than Republicans to the polls. The contest with Coakley is strikingly parallel. Brown got a substantial number of registered Democrats to vote for him, or Coakley would have squeaked through.
Brown and McQuilken went against each other one more time, in November, 2004, now for a full term in the state Senate. But it was a foregone conclusion, Brown by 2636. McQuilken ran a notably lackluster campaign and we now know what Brown can do with that.
Progressives make a big mistake in thinking of Brown as an “empty suit.” Scott Brown is a smart, canny politician who has followed a complex path as a conservative Republican in a state that has elected fewer and fewer of them. His victory in January, 2010, is, as I have argued elsewhere, was also due to a profound discontent in the electorate. And Brown’s disciplined campaign took advantage of every bit of that discontent.
(cross-posted at DailyKos)