Here are six scenarios for today’s special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Edward Kennedy.
FIRST: NOTHING CHANGES.
Democrat Martha Coakley wins with relative ease, thanks to the Democratic advantage in traditionally-blue Massachusetts and a lot of last-minute scrambling by frightened party activists and their union allies. As such, the Democrats maintain their 60-seat majority in the Senate and the flexibility they need to pass some sort of health care reform – which they do with little reflection on the scare they have just been through.
This is a status-quo result, which has little real impact on the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. If Coakley’s win is big enough, they claim that the whole speculation about the liberal lion of the Senate’s seat falling to conservative Republican Scott Brown is dismissed as little more than an exercise in wishful thinking by a battered GOP and mental masturbation by political reporters trying to fill their timecards before the fall electoral season begins in earnest.
SECOND: SOMETHING CHANGES FOR THE BETTER.
Coakley wins, but by a very narrow margin in a state that sends an entirely Democratic delegation to the Congress and that voted for George McGovern for Pete’s sake.
Democrats recognize that they got lucky when they realized late in the game that their nominee was in trouble and compliment themselves for responding quickly enough to save the seat. But they open an internal (and to some extent external) discussion about their circumstance going into a critical election year. They recognize, finally, that they have mismanaged the health-care debate – confusing Americans, offering less than anyone bargained for and spending too much time trying to satisfy the demands of big insurance firms and the pharmaceutical industry. They also recognize that they have spent too little time focused on jobs and holding Wall Street and the big banks to account.
The realization that Obama’s final push worked not because of fears that his health care reform would be defeated but because he adopted a populist politics that battered the bankers is not lost on the president or his strategists. They get more actively engaged in muscling up and making real the promise of health-care reform – which must be passed in order to record a major accomplishment. But their primary focus becomes the too-long neglected economic mess that threatens to undermine the party’s prospects this fall.
THIRD: SOMETHING CHANGES FOR THE WORSE (Coakley Mix)
Coakely wins by a narrow margin and conservative Democrats – along with their echo chamber in major media (not Fox, but the broader punditocracy that is so inclined to police politics toward the center) – spin the fantasy that their Massachusetts nominee got into trouble because Obama and Congressional Democrats have been too bold, too ambitious, too liberal.
The health-care bill is compromised even further. Obama focuses on deficit reduction and spending freezes rather than job creation. Despite some wrangling in the House, the Democrats begin triangulating to the right. Caution is the order of the day and the Republicans seize the opening – especially if unemployment grows worse – to paint Obama and his congressional allies as a managerial party that is not up to the task of governing.