If you are finding it hard to get enthused about the seemingly preordained drubbing that Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley will give to the GOP nominee, State Senator Scott Brown, in the special election for US Senate, you are not alone. But you may want to take a second look at the contest — which, properly viewed, has more to do with state Republican Party politics both in the immediate future and the next four years.
"Brown is not running to be US senator," says one Republican insider, "he's running to be . . . governor in 2014."
Brown, according to several Republican observers, is running a hopeless US Senate race (as Joe Malone did in 1988, against Ted Kennedy) to set the stage for a more realistic statewide race (for Malone, it was state treasurer in 1990).
Malone never did make it to the Corner Office, but his quest — including his failed gubernatorial challenge to fellow Republican Paul Cellucci in 1998 — went a long way toward defining the Mass GOP.
Brown could be poised to do the same, even though most GOP insiders harbor no illusions about Brown's chances in the January 19 election.
After all, more than 650,000 people voted in the Democratic Senate primary — nearly half of them for Coakley — but only 160,000 voted in the Republican primary. And nearly every observer agrees that Massachusetts voters are far less willing to vote for Republicans in congressional elections than for state offices.
Yet while Mass GOP leaders fully expect Brown to lose, there's a strange optimism that he will lose well. Or, at least, not lose disastrously.
"He's almost the dream candidate," says Amy Lambiaso, consultant with Liberty Square Group, who works with Republican candidates. "He's an excellent worker — he'll raise the money, he'll knock on doors."
Others echo that sentiment, and say that his efforts could help the state GOP revitalize and re-emerge as a political force in 2010.
"The Brown campaign is going to send a signal of what next year's statewide elections portend," says Bob Hedlund, a Republican state senator.
A tanking economy and a string of scandals have turned the public against Beacon Hill Democrats. For Republicans to take advantage, they need strong candidates, money, activism, and a good message.
Some state GOP insiders believe that Brown's Senate campaign might infuse that into the party. But, surprisingly, others fear it might do the exact opposite.
Defining the issues
Brown's effect on the 2010 state races could depend on whether he runs a highly ideological campaign or strikes a more centrist tone.
Throughout his political career, Brown has been considered a staunch conservative. His first race for the State Senate, in 2004, was defined largely by the issue of same-sex marriage, which Brown opposed. He is extremely popular among the conservative base of the state party, say insiders.
That's worrisome to those in the wing of the state GOP — personified by gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker — who believe the party needs moderate candidates who focus on job creation and fiscal responsibility. They want to downplay social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, and to distance themselves from the hard-line rhetoric of the Tea Party movement.