Our One Hundredth: Voting for Elephants…
UPDATED 3/4/13 11:47PM: For grammar and clarity
Could it be? Do Republicans have an honest to God race on their hands to nominate a candidate for the special Senate election? With three candidates remarkably well exceeding the 10,000, the Republican will have a battle among the politically promiscuous Gabriel Gomez, former US Attorney Michael Sullivan and State Representative Dan Winslow. This may signal hope for the state Republican Party, but really it is a quest for relevance.
To be sure, Democrats cannot now or after April 30th afford to be at all Pollyannaish about the election. There is unlikely to be any legislative push that Republicans can demagogue against the Democrat and even if they were the Republican nominee is not the filibuster-saving 41st vote. Democrats, either Stephen Lynch’s apostles or devoted liberals backing Ed Markey, could pout over their nominee’s loss dragging down Democratic turnout. That is the greatest risk, although it is not at all clear that this is anything but a fear right now.
That leaves the Republican nominating contest as a something of a sideshow, but a critical one. Winning is not exactly the only goal. All of the candidates, their relative anonymity notwithstanding have additional baggage, that would make election difficult.
Gomez, despite receiving an uncharacteristic, slobbering posting from the Boston Phoenix’s David Bernstein, almost seems a bit too staged and even plastic. In Bernstein’s defense, he responds to the over-friendliness Gomez exhibited which, for us, is a turnoff and often portends trouble. Gomez and supporters like Kerry Healey made parallels between him and Scott Brown. However, that comparison invites a less flattering comparison: broad platitudinous principles that have little or no substance for voters to measure.
Sullivan’s views on social issues are probably disqualifying all by themselves. Without qualification, being anti-marriage equality, anti-choice is toxic in Massachusetts. Even Scott Brown knew better than to display any overt hostility to either. Brown is lucky that a marriage repeal bill never came up that would have forced him to choose between his donors and votes.
Winslow, were it not for several episodes of conservative hyperventilation, would actually be the most palatable. Winslow is not an empty shirt like Brown or the way Gomez is positioning himself. But he was a Romney man. Many of his ideas are, too, toxic in Massachusetts, but, perhaps owing to his life in the legislature’s minority, he’d rather debate issue with opponents than flatten them with his position and self-satisfied conservative righteousness. Indeed, until the campaign, he was a frequent poster and commenter on Blue Mass Group blog
So what is the point? For some, the reward is not entirely clear. Some like Gomez are unlikely to take this race and leap to a race for Governor although he could. Sullivan would be better suited to that like William Weld, also a former US Attorney, did. Were Attorney General Martha Coakley to retire/run for governor, Winslow would be in a prime position to run for AG.
But a central reason to run, aside from raising profile, is also to help keep the party alive. There is a school of thought that the number of the candidates is a sign of vitality, but it is really more of a death scream. No, the Republican party is not going to die and go away forever in Massachusetts. Indeed, they have hit rock bottom before. However, the party needs to mount a significant effort to build itself back up ahead of the open governor’s seat in 2014. That, ultimately, is what this race is about.
The candidate who succeeds in doing that, and keeping either Lynch or Markey honest in the general, will get brownie points. However, their future is not the focus, and frankly it should not be. Personality-driven Massachusetts Republican Leadership ends in disaster. They yield a Mitt Romney or Scott Brown, do nothing for the party as a whole and, ultimately, leave the down ticket GOP with no infrastructure to utilize in an election and therefore nothing to pass on to the next guy (see Brown, Scott). Indeed, this was a central problem for the party in the Brown era, and led to a number of hurt feelings and diminished enthusiasm among the Republican grassroots, to the extent that they existed.
From a practical perspective, it could not matter less whether or not the GOP has an infrastructure during the special election. They did not really have one when Scott Brown won and if Republicans lose as expected this time, who cares?. The reason is for 2014, when the executive suite and another run at Representative John Tierney’s seat are the big prizes along with a seat or two in the State Senate. If Republicans can forge some kind of functioning party apparatus for 2014, they will at least have a chance, maybe even a very good one to find victory, whether their nominee is Charles Baker or somebody else.
To that end, Sullivan and Winslow seem like best candidates to do that, although the latter does not especially have the love of the party establishment (this is the same establishment that has guzzled personality-driven party management like anti-freeze). Gomez, not so much, and his vapid platform lean more in the personality direction…for now.
This race is a trial run, but a critical one. While the National Republican Party remains the biggest monkey on the state party’s back, the latter’s inability to actually organize, grow, and field candidates remains a critical problem. That is what they need to use this race for, not to merely hoist another one hit wonder onto their shoulders.