Massachusetts Survives Republican Assault on the House

>"Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts," was the theme at election headquarters last night among Democrats of a certain age, who promised to unearth their McGovern era bumper stickers. The Democratic sweep of the commonwealth's 10 congressional districts and all its constitutional offices softened the blows suffered by Democrats nationally and made Scott Brown's election look more like an anomaly than the onset of a trend. (Brown must be feelingĀ  a bit more nervous about 2012 this morning, while his prospective opponents are beginning to line up.) Never mind the national tsunami. In Massachusetts, at least, all politics seem local once again.

The good news came early for Democrats, when Barney Frank retained his seat in an expensive, nationalized campaign. Incumbent governor Deval Patrick took the lead early and maintained it, along with most of the state's incumbent House members. The tightest and most nerve-wracking congressional race for Democrats was in Scott Brown's home territory, southeast Massachusetts, where former D.A. Bill Keating defeated State Representative and Brown favorite Jeff Perry.

One lesson you might be tempted to draw from the Massachusetts midterms is that negative ads don't necessarily work. In his combative acceptance speech, Barney Frank, liberated from electoral restraints on his refreshing tactlessness, lambasted negative campaigning (along with the Boston Herald and Fox News), characterizing his win as "a victory for a concept of government which eschews the anger and the vitriol." But Frank has the intelligence, wit, and chutzpah to parry and deflate a negative campaign, and he can draw on a reservoir of affection from a district he has served for decades.

Deval Patrick (whom I support, along with Frank) also prevailed against a negative, nationally funded campaign, and a generally well-regarded, more or less moderate Republican, Charlie Baker (who conceded quite graciously.) But Patrick has the advantage of a particularly appealing personality, combining warmth, thoughtfulness, empathy, and respectfulness with tempered optimism. He is, in fact, the best retail campaigner I have ever seen, supported by a very good grassroots operation.

Negative campaigning may have worked in the 10th congressional district race between Bill Keating and Jeff Perry; at least, Keating's negative campaign ads against former bad cop Perry, focusing on his history of dishonesty and complicity in sexual abuse, didn't hurt, as some predicted they would; then again, they had the virtue of being true.

But it's also worth noting that, like Patrick and Frank, Bill Keating was up against a nationally funded opponent (Republicans poured a few million dollars into the race). Money is surely necessary, but (as Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina learned) it isn't necessarily sufficient. Turn-out was high, and Massachusetts Democrats were relatively energized this year. Disappointed as hell by Scott Brown's upset, they weren't going to take it anymore.