The fact that Massachusetts actually has to hold a special election tomorrow could be newsworthy in itself. Yes, I know that Mitt Romney was recently governor and, heck, Edward Brooke, was a Republican, a black Republican (or as Harry Reid would say a Negro Republican since this was the 60’s and 70’s) but Republicans don’t win in Massachusetts and surely not in a Senate race for a seat held by Ted Kennedy and before him John Kennedy.
Yet, we head into tomorrow with the race too close to call. It may turn on turnout and in special elections turnout often favors the GOP. Of course, we won’t know until the votes are cast and counted.
There should not be any real drama since Democrats hold a 3-1 edge in registration. There is, however, real drama. Yes, turnout drives some of it. It will always be a wild card in these cases. And, 52 weeks after Barack Hussein Obama mmm mmm mmm took his oath of office this is clearly a referendum on his leadership. It is also a referendum on health care. It is a major referendum on that. Watch the fence sitters bail should a Republican actually win. While some suggest the Democrats will push the bill through before a Republican is seated, one has to wonder what the message will be even with a close Democratic victory.
The fact that the Republican has a chance tells you that Obama is in trouble. The fact that the race is this close and health reform or the defeat of it was a major issue tells you that health reform may be in trouble. I had one wise voter tell me that if the Senate version of health care emerges from the conference that Obama should veto it. I think that may be right. Actually, I think they should put it on the back burner for now and make it the issue in the 2010 elections. Let the voters decide in Senate and House races whether we have expansive federal health care or continue to have millions of uninsureds whose health care plan is “don’t get sick.”
But, I think the election tomorrow has meaning well beyond the issue of health care. In a state where Dems outnumber Republicans 3-1, there is a close race and that says party labels are starting to be questioned. I had this very discussion with Scott Ott, the new Executive Director of the Lehigh County Republican Party, and Wayne Woodman, the likely new chairman, last week. They spoke of a “cognitive dissonance” between belief and party affiliation. They spoke of people being genetically disposed o be members of a party. How many Massachusetts Democrats are Democrats because their parents were and their grandparents were and JFK was? How many are now questioning those labels and looking at issues?
How many of us have done a spreadsheet of issues and seen how they measure up with the major parties? I have tried. I stand with the Democrats on some issues and the Republicans on others. I stand between the two on some. Health care is one. I want universal state-run health care rather than federal run and I want the care to be a matter of right so long as it is FDA approved. No quotas. No rationing. No government structure telling you what you can and can’t have. It can all be administered via private insurance with subsidies based on income but with no exclusion so long as it is FDA-approved. That places me outside both parties.
More and more, I believe, voters are outside parties. It is refreshing, therefore, to hear Ott and Woodman talk of core beliefs—the belief in individual freedom—as guiding party.
Within the GOP, we should be able to debate health care, abortion, gun control, immigration, foreign aid, etc. In the end, we will reach a consensus or at least a majority and move forward. We may disagree on some issues but we remain united by this belief that government should protect personal freedom rather than trying to control our life.
In some ways, that is what you are seeing in Massachusetts. Voters are waking up to the fact that you can’t vote based on party label but must vote on the issues. Whatever you think of health care (and I am far closer to the D’s than the R’s on this one as I only disagree on the delivery system), the POTUS and the congress have messed up this debate big time and allowed the minority to seize the day.
Every presidency has pivot points. We wrote Clinton off in 1993 when his tax bill almost failed and in 1994 when health care failed and Gingrich seized control of the House of Representatives, something 20 years earlier we predicted would never happen again in our lifetime. Clinton prevailed and was re-elected. Obama can still prevail but tomorrow will be a great test.
I hope, however, regardless of which candidate wins that nobody will see this as a Democratic win or a Republican win. If the Democrat wins it is because she should in that state. If the Republican wins, it doesn’t mean a shift to the Republican Party and the far right agenda. It means a defeat on the health care issue.
Win or lose, the message for my Republican Party should be clear and it is another one that was mentioned by Ott and Woodman—the Reagan concept of the Big Tent is alive and well. As a party, we need to become even broader at the base and allow more and more disaffected voters to agree with us on some issues. The way you attract voters is to give them a few base issues on which they can agree with you. It will seldom be 100%. A Republican victory tomorrow is not a victory for hard-line Republican ideals. Instead, it is a victory for the base principle of the value of the individual and a victory for those who seek to broaden our party’s appeal.
Regardless of who wins, it is a GOP victory. Anything less than 65% to 35% is a Republican victory. It is a victory for a party seeking to attract others. The key to victory is to stop alienating our own party members be they 9/12 types, pure libertarians or “Rockefeller Republicans,” and to reach out and attract independents and those who are Democrats in name due to heredity.
In addition to being a test of Obama policy, the heath care reform debate and other issues, I think the special election is a test of the inclusiveness model being employed in Lehigh County. The fact that they are still polling a day before and that uber-pundit Charlie Cook has the GOP ahead says we have passed the test of inclusiveness.