Massachusetts Election, 2010 and 2012

Tomorrow is the Massachusetts special Senate election for Ted Kennedy’s seat, the coverage of which has been drawing my attention for the past week and a half. While I think it’ll be a disappointment if Coakley loses, as it would indicate reinforcement of the unsuccessful status quo of the past decade, that and a G.O.P. gain in November will surprise me about as much as our Chicago toaster oven will when it burns the toast again. (And by that I mean I will be not at all surprised.)

The stats on midterm elections are frequently trotted out, and they’re almost always bad for the incumbent President’s party. Also frequently trotted out these days is the fact that the “Tea Party” is more popular than either major party, and while that movement doesn’t seem to me to have a platform beyond “visceral howls of opposition”, that’s a lot of voter anger floating around that’s inevitably focused on the team in power.

That said, what potential G.O.P. candidate out there can win in 2012? It looks now like none of them can: Romney is too manufactured to get the nomination; Huckabee commuted the sentence of a prisoner who later murdered four police officers; Palin won’t convince enough general-election voters that she’s competent; and Pawlenty is possible but Midwestern governors are usually too nondescript (remember when people said Tom Vilsack could get the Democratic nomination?). The best remaining candidate is probably Rudy Giuliani, but his personal life is a mess, he’s too socially liberal for the base, he dropped out in 2008 when he couldn’t even win the Florida primary and he’s made enough ridiculous claims recently to turn off most voters. In early 2006 the Democrats had the Hillary machine and Obama was an untarnished star, but there’s nobody in the G.O.P. like that as of January 2010.

Anything’s possible in almost three years — caveat up in here — but the conservative part of the G.O.P. is super fired-up and determined to knock off all moderates, meaning they’re either going to nominate someone like Palin who is very unlikely to win the general election or they’ll get angry at having to swallow yet another compromise mainstream candidate like McCain. Either way, not a great situation for challenging a sitting president who’s had time to recalibrate from midterm results.

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