I was one of the first to congratulate Scott Brown and his supporters for their victory yesterday, and I still do today. It was a very impressive showing, and they should be proud of the victory.
But it was not an upbeat campaign. True, Brown himself did not run negative ads like the “you will be raped in a parking lot if you vote for Deval” piece that backfired so badly on previous Republican candidate Kerry Healey, although he did go mildly negative.
He just got smart and realized that he didn’t have to descend to that level himself. Talk radio, the Fox Republican Channel, and the teabagger army that descended on this state from New Hampshire, Virginia, and elsewhere did it for him. From death threats and horrific statements on Facebook to 24/7 radio vitriol, there was an ugly side to the Brown campaign. To his credit, Brown initially spoke out against some of this, but toward the end, he accepted the ugliness. This video is an example. Not especially important in itself, but an important indicator. In any event, only 97,000 people saw this on YouTube: a tiny fraction of the over two million people who voted, even if all the viewers were from Massachusetts and voted, which certainly is not the case.
Now, the Coakley campaign ran a lot of negative ads produced, according to AmericaBlog, by the firm GMMB headed by Jim Margolis, and some of her supporters did even worse. They appear to have hurt her, because her poll ratings sank like a stone in the last few weeks of the campaign. I think it is fair to say that she arguably ran an even more negative campaign than Brown, when she ran a campaign at all. The key point, however, is that she had to do it herself.
This dynamic may change in the future, for better or for worse, as a result of the rise of the Internet — if 1,000,000 people had watched that YouTube clip, far fewer might accept the idea that Brown ran an “upbeat campaign” — but it hasn’t happened yet. The power of the intensely partisan traditional media system the Republicans have built to do electoral dirty work while offering plausible deniability to candidates is impressive.