To state the obvious, when I was confident a week ago that Scott Brown was too conservative to win in Massachusetts despite Coakley’s bad campaign and despite the favorable national environment, I was mistaken.
And that’s what’s so unnerving, to Democrats, about Brown winning. Weird electoral outcomes happen all the time. We have Democrats representing Alaska and Nebraska and a Republican House member from New Orleans. But normally when that happens you have not just a “bad candidate” but literal criminal charges, or else you get the Ben Nelson scenario when the politician has to go out of his way to constantly emphasize that he’s not like the rest of those guys. What made me think Brown couldn’t win was that he did remarkably little to distance himself from the conservative movement or the national Republican Party.
This sort of opens up the question of what Senator Brown will actually do. The evidence from state of the art political science is that Brown’s voting record as a state legislator is actually incredibly liberal for a Republican. But his campaign didn’t really emphasize that fact, and his statements on forward-looking issues (no on health care, no on cap and trade, yes on tax cuts) don’t indicate any particular desire to break with conservative orthodoxy. And yet, I think the baseline view that Massachusetts is a liberal state that’s not going to re-elect an orthodox conservative still seems pretty compelling.