I took the votes Kerry and Obama received in each city and town, and compared it to the overall margin of victory statewide to get the PVI. (The numbers came from the Globe’s cool 2008 and 2004 town-by-town breakdown.) Thus, while the town of Winthrop is R+1, this does not necessarily mean that it is a “Republican town” – Obama and Kerry won handily there – but that it was slightly more Republican compared to the state as a whole. These are the types of towns that Republicans (like Scott Brown) should be winning if they want to succeed in statewide elections – indeed, Romney won Winthrop by exactly the same amount he won by statewide.
I’ll note that off-year elections (i.e. for Governor) are not included in the PVI, only Presidential elections. However, I also looked at the non-competitive Kennedy-Chase race in 2006, the ’06 Governor’s race, and the Kerry blowout against Jeff Beatty in 2008. Interestingly, there was little difference between a town’s PVI in either year – a place like Worcester (D+6) tended to give the Democrat right around 6 points more than the state as a whole, regardless of off-year or presidential year status (at least in the Kerry/Kennedy Senate races). There are a few towns that buck this trend, a couple of which I mention below.
Bellwether Cities and Towns
The following towns tend to track the overall statewide results. Obviously the turnout next Tuesday will be much lower than a Presidential or gubernatorial election – but the relative performance of Coakley and Brown (as well as who they are turning out) should be captured by comparing the early reported returns with the town’s PVI.
Hull (D+0) – Not only is Hull consistently among the best bellwethers in all of Massachusetts, but it is in Plymouth County, where Brown should do well. If he’s trailing here, that’s a good sign for Coakley.
South Hadley (D+0) – One of the question marks will be what turnout will be like in Western Mass. South Hadley is a bellwether and also in Hampshire County, which is small in population but nevertheless an area where Coakley should rack up some votes.
Waltham (D+1) – Of course, Middlesex County will be key in this contest, like it always is in statewide races. Waltham typically tracks statewide results, with a slight Democratic lean. Melrose (R+1) is another Middlesex bellwether, though one with a very slight Republican lean.
Winthrop (R+1) matched the Romney/O’Brien results perfectly, and was very close to the state average in the last two Senate races – though it was slightly more for McCain (+3.5%) in ’08.
Wellesley (D+1) isn’t really representative in terms of its underlying demographics, but perhaps surprisingly it is pretty representative of Massachusetts as a whole in Presidential races. However, Wellesley is one area that displays a different dynamic in off years – Romney and Chase did about 8 points better than the state as a whole (Brown also represents a sliver of Wellesley). Sudbury (D+1) is very similar.
Chicopee (D+1) in Hampden County is another politically representative town, albeit one that has trended more Democratic in off-year elections.
Falmouth (R+3) – Barnstable County should be Brown’s best area, and Falmouth is the biggest swingy town in the county. If Coakley is winning by a decent amount in Falmouth, it bodes very well for her.
Westport (D+1) – Bristol County had awful turnout in the Democratic primary compared to other areas, so it will be a county to watch on Tuesday. Westport is also a bellwether, though interesting because it trends more Democratic in off-year elections.
Other key cities/towns to keep an eye on include Milton (R+0) , Quincy (R+1), and Fitchburg (R+1).
For anyone interested, the most Democratic town in the state is tiny Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard (D+29). The most Republican is Charlton in Worcester County (R+22), which gave Bush a whopping 65% in 2004.
This will come as no surprise, but Coakley must get a good chunk of votes from Cambridge (D+25), Somerville (D+20), Brookline (D+18), and Boston (D+16). If turnout is reported as particularly low in these areas, or Coakley isn’t hitting at a margin at least as big as the D+ number here, she’s in trouble. Conversely, one of the benefits of the Obama visit will be to activate some of these liberal base voters. If turnout is OK here, and she’s exceeding her targets (say over 70% in Boston, with decent turnout), that’s a good sign.
Worcester (D+6) – is both a population center and has been very consistently at about D+6 the past several years. If Brown is close to even in Worcester, look out.
Most of Plymouth and Barnstable Counties should be Brown’s best counties, so track the turnout there. Of the decent sized towns, watch places like Hanover (R+17), Middleborough (R+15), Bridgewater (R+13), and Barnstable ((R+9). Outside of these two counties, also keep an eye on Walpole (R+13), North Andover (R+12), Weymouth (R+7). If Brown is getting his numbers in these areas, he has a good chance of the upset.
Another is Plymouth (R+9) – if Coakley running even or better in Plymouth, she’s in very good shape.
Both candidates were raised in towns that reflect their partisan leanings. Coakley was born and raised in North Adams (D+14), and Brown’s hometown is Wakefield (R+6). Of course, he represents Wrentham (R+14) now as a State Senator, where he should be beating Coakley handily.