As a Republican who also defied the pundits’ expectations by winning the governor’s seat in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, I was pleased, but not surprised, by Tuesday’s election results.
U.S. senator-elect Scott Brown may have driven his pickup truck around the state to campaign, but it was a wave of voter discontent that he skillfully rode all the way in on election day like a champion surfer.
No Republican can win statewide in Massachusetts without building a broad coalition of Democratic and independent voters. By travelling the state and listening to those voters, in their kitchens and storefronts, and yes, in front of Fenway Park on a frosty winter day – as his opponent Martha Coakley famously scoffed about – Mr. Brown heard the deep concern the citizens of Massachusetts are feeling about the direction of both the federal and state governments.
“I can stop it.” Think about those four words echoing across a debate stage and you know Scott Brown was listening to voters when he said them. Voters were deeply concerned about the national health care reform bill. It would have harmed Massachusetts’ vibrant health-care industry, cut Medicare for seniors and undermined the quality of care. And voters knew Massachusetts didn’t need it because the legislature had already passed a reform bill that brought insurance coverage to almost every citizen in the state, a reform Mr. Brown voted for when he served in the State House. Mr. Brown had, well, let’s call it the “audacity of hope,” to sign his name followed by a #41 – in other words, the GOP’s 41st vote – for enthusiastic crowds in the campaign’s closing days because voters wanted to send a message to Washington on health care: “Not so far, not so fast.”
I also think the state’s voters wanted to send two other messages to leaders in Washington and Boston: “Focus on jobs” and “stop spending.”
While they worried about keeping their paycheques, or worse, when their unemployment cheques would run out with no jobs in sight, Washington was engaged in partisan posturing and a massive expansion of government. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton won in 1992 by famously sticking with one campaign theme: “It’s the economy, stupid.” It still is.
Finally, America is a country at war. Voters were freshly reminded of that reality after a Christmas Day attempt to bomb an airliner over Detroit. Mr. Brown, a long-time member of the National Guard, didn’t mince words when he sided with many Americans in asserting that suspected terrorists do not deserve the same rights as American citizens. His opponent, however, was rightly admonished in the media for asserting there were no more terrorists in Afghanistan.
That was just one mistake in Ms. Coakley’s campaign. There were others, including the tactical error of bringing President Barack Obama to campaign with her last weekend. Generally, voters in special elections are active Democrats and Republicans. Given that Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one in Massachusetts, that was a huge advantage for Ms. Coakley. But the President’s visit and resulting media attention was like shining a huge spotlight on a sign for unenrolled voters, who make up just over 50 per cent of the state electorate: “Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday!” And vote they did, in record numbers, for Scott Brown.
However, campaigns aren’t won because an opponent runs a bad one. Campaigns are won because the winning candidate runs a great one.
As Americans, and our Canadian neighbours, begin to see Mr. Brown on the national stage, they will see a strong, compassionate, effective and relentless leader. A great applause line on the campaign was this simple: “I’m Scott Brown. I live in Wrentham. And I drive a truck.” Voters understood that he knew exactly who he was and exactly what he believed. Even more simply put – they liked him.
So what does this mean for Congress, the Obama administration and incumbent politicians elsewhere in the United States? It’s a wake up call. The country’s voters are angry. They want change. They want non-partisan solutions to big problems facing America. They want government to live within its means. They want leaders focused on jobs. They want leaders willing to make tough decisions.
In short, they want the promise of “Yes we can” delivered upon. No matter the political affiliation, the election of Mr. Brown meant this: If elected officials show they “can’t,” or worse, “won’t,” the voters will.
Paul Cellucci is former U.S. ambassador to Canada.
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