The political world seems to be buzzing over a WBUR poll released recently that showed lukewarm re-elect margins for famed Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. While the poll found Warren’s approval rating to be 51%, it showed that just 44% of Bay State voters would grant her a second term. 46% felt it was time to “give someone else a chance.” Additionally, the poll showed Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s popularity exceeding Warren’s, making the GOP fish a safe bet in a fairly big Democratic pond.
The poll was surprising to many who assumed that Warren would skate through the cycle and spend much of her time stumping the country on behalf of like-minded Democratic candidates seeking all kinds of offices. Does it mean she’s vulnerable or that the poll is wrong?The answer: probably neither.
Everyone knows the expression, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, to paraphrase that, one can’t always judge a poll by its numbers, at least not this far out. Indeed, it needn’t be said that this is very early in a two year election cycle. Americans are still election weary and are not inclined to focus on any election, let one so far out. Having said that, Massachusetts is among the most liberal states in the nation and seems destined to be front and center in their opposition to the Trump administration. One could also argue that Ted Cruz should on paper face a grueling fight for re-election because his presidential campaign and personal style did not wear well with many others. Early polls may reflect the “someone else” sentiment. But Texas is Texas and at the end of the day, Cruz will be favored as well (though given that the demographics are changing, he might have to hustle more than Warren).
And with so much emphasis on “someone else,” let’s look at it, shall we? A comment on the blog redracinghorses.com spelled it out succinctly. “Someone Else is usually a great candidate. Personally, I love his/her positions on the issues and he’s honest as heck. So it’s not unusual for a candidate to not do well against Someone Else.” The blogger goes on to say that “a real candidate is usually a different story. “ Indubitably!
For Massachusetts, don’t be surprised if a “real candidate,” at least an “A” level candidate fails to emerge (Curt Schilling is making moves to run but he doesn’t seem to be causing Democratic operatives much sleep). For starters, the GOP is already gunning for five Democratic held seats that not only gave Donald Trump punishing margins, but Mitt Romney as well. Add that to the fact that Republicans now control all three levers of government and may be unpopular and it’s not unthinkable to think the GOP may not even target Warren. At the very least, any serious foe will have to raise serious money before national organizations pitch in and if the perception is that Warren is unbeatable, that will come to pass entirely. Remember in 2006, Republicans were hoping to tie Hillary Clinton down as she sought a second term in New York but, after ending up with a sacrificial lamb as a candidate and desperate to protect their own majority (unsuccessfully), that man, Yonkers Mayor Spencer was left fending for himself.
Finally, let’s look at Senators who had so-so numbers going into their re-election campaigns.
In August of 1993, <em>Roll Call</em> reported that Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes had a 38% re-elect. But few of any stature sensed that Sarbanes was really vulnerable and he won re-election the following year – not a Democratic year by any means, with an 18% margin.
A more important look may be Massachusetts itself. As venerable as he proved to be, there was a time very early in the 1994 cycle that Ted Kennedy appeared to be not so invincible. The Kennedy family had just come off a series of negative public relation hits and Kennedy was preparing to face an energetic businessman named Mitt Romney. But Kennedy, who narrowly trailed in early polls, took the race seriously and ended with a whopping 58%.
The just completed cycle shows how difficult it is to predict vulnerability. At this point two years ago, Democrats were very concerned about Colorado Senator Mike Bennet while New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte was thought to be reasonably positioned to win a second term. Meanwhile, the thought of North Carolina’s Rich Burr and Missouri’s Roy Blunt being seriously threatened was laughable. On the other side, some commentators saw Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson as toast – even more so than his neighbor, Mark Kirk of Illinois who was always thought to face an uphill fight (he would by 13 points). The end result: Ayotte lost, Blunt and Burr were pressed unexpectedly hard while Johnson stunned almost all of Washington and beyond by holding his seat by a fairly comfortable margin.
In the fall of 2009, one political analyst called my thoughts that seemingly entrenched three-term Senators Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold and Patty Murray might face challenging races the following year “truly bizarre.” Feingold ended up losing, Murray barely squeaked by and Boxer, while winning comfortably in the end, was in a fight for her political life almost the entire year.
But the most important reason for Warren’s strength is the political environment.
Massachusetts was the one state that opted for George McGovern over Richard Nixon in 1972 and while, last year displayed that states that proved durable for one party at the national level can certainly change, Massachusetts isn’t likely to be going down that path anytime soon. In other words, Warren can probably continue to book flights to other states confidant shell continue to be the top draw.