Although Democrats took back a Senate seat with the victory of Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren after a heated race, political experts said the win represented nothing more than a shift back to the status quo in the Commonwealth.
Last Tuesday’s election returned a Massachusetts Senate seat back to Democratic control when Warren triumphed over incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown.
Warren joins fellow Democrat John Kerry in the Senate for the 113th Congress.
In a Commonwealth with about three Democrats to every one Republican, there was a 37-percent increase in Democratic voter turnout for the 2012 election than there was in the 2010 special election.
Doug Kriner, a political science professor at Boston University, said the biggest factor in party change for the Senate seat was the unique circumstances that surrounded the 2010 special election after former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death.
“Electorates in midterms are different from those in presidential election years,” Kriner said. “In special elections, the electorate is even smaller and more skewed demographically.”
Brown, who ran on a campaign that promised Independent voice and bipartisan votes for Massachusetts, won the 2010 special election against Democrat Martha Coakley with 52 percent of votes.
Peter Ubertaccio, director of the Martin Institute and political science professor at Stonehill College, said Brown’s victory came at a time when Democrats were discouraged by President Barack Obama’s leadership.
“Republicans were energized when Brown ran that first campaign,” he said. “It was a lower turnout election, and Democrats were really demoralized. Brown’s campaign was well run, and all things came together at once.”
In the 2012 election, Warren won with more than 53 percent of the votes at the same time Obama was reelected for a second presidential term — something Kriner said helped Warren win the seat over Brown this time around.
“The different composition of the electorate coupled with a huge enthusiasm gap helped Brown immensely [in 2010],” he said. “In 2012, the electorate was bigger and more demographically diverse, and Warren benefited from having Obama at the top of the ticket.”
“Obama came and spoke that year right before the election, and urged Democrats to go out and vote,” Ubertaccio said. “But people stayed home and that’s significant.”
Jerold Duquette, a political science professor at Central Connecticut State University, said news organizations and political analysts were scared to call the race early in Warren’s favor because they feared they would predict incorrectly as they did when Coakley was assumed to win the Senate seat in 2010.
“The electorate was light on committed progressives and it was light on regular Democrats who didn’t want to come out in the cold,” he said of Brown’s win in 2010. “Brown was the only race in country, so he got national support.”
Duquette said within a normal election like in 2012, the difference in circumstances did not favor Brown — something that people did not pay attention to when comparing elections.
“It was perfect timing for a Republican [in 2010],” he said. “Republicans didn’t even think he would win. He [Brown] gets elected in surprise, so people thought he had a chance at winning [in 2012] because nobody suspected he could do it the first time.”
But Duquette said Brown was doomed to fail the Senate race from the moment Warren became his opponent.
“She was a viable candidate who could raise money and become nationally recognized and run a national campaign,” he said. “She basically ran an incumbent campaign while he [Brown] ran one like a challenger.”
Because Democrats overwhelm Republicans in the majority of Massachusetts and this was a normal election within a presidential election year, Warren would have had to do something drastic to her reputation and her campaign to be in danger of losing to Brown, Duquette said.
“Brown would have had to turn Warren into Cruella De Vil, or she would have had to been caught robbing a liquor store,” he said.
Both Ubertaccio and Duquette said Republicans would not regain a Massachusetts Senate seat in the foreseeable future.
Duquette said unless another special election is held for John Kerry’s vacated seat, Republicans should not get their prospects up for regaining that seat.
“Massachusetts Republicans haven’t done a good job at organizing and providing an alternative that’s workable in this state,” Ubertaccio said. “They need to better organize themselves. It’s hard to imagine Republicans successfully competing for that seat.”