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The Lessons of the Massachusetts Race for the State of the Union

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As we head into the State of the Union, the Democrats and the President need to note the real lessons of the 2009 and Massachusetts elections. The State of the Union is the first step in fixing our problems and we need to stay on and be mindful of these lessons, not for five days, but for the next five months. In order to seize victory in November, Democrats need to learn the larger lessons from the 2009 and 2010 elections.

  1. Scott Brown won on our message and it is time to take it back. In 2008, people voted for change. They did the same thing in mayoral and gubernatorial elections in 2009 and in Massachusetts in 2010. As the AFL-CIO post-election poll showed, voters didn't feel that Obama and the Democrats had done too much. By a margin of 47% to 32%, they felt they had accomplished too little. We need to deliver on the change we promised.
  2. "It's the economy, moron!" Recent polling shows 90% of Americans think the economy is not in good shape, 60% believe the economy is still turning downwards, and 55% believe that the stimulus is not working (Battleground, December 2009). As an Attorney General, it was hard for Martha Coakley to convince voters that she had a record of creating jobs. Members of Congress can establish that record. The President and the Congress need to pass a jobs bill. In Virginia and New Jersey, exit polls showed by more than two to one voters who were very worried about the economy voted Republican. Similarly, AFL-CIO election eve polling showed Scott Brown won a solid majority (56%) of those worried about the economy and a majority of those who had lost a job in the last year. That's untenable for Democrats. Moreover, EPI polling showed at the end of last year that 65% of voters thought banks had benefited from the stimulus bill, 56% believe corporations had, but only 13% believe ordinary people had benefited. Martha Coakley who had never voted for a tax increase found herself seriously weakened by the charges that she supported programs that would raise taxes but do nothing for the middle class. Democrats can and must turn that around by demonstrating that they are producing jobs with the money that they spend.
  3. Pass financial reforms to win back the angry independents. 2010 is shaping up to be the year of angry independents who are looking for someone to blame. The Battleground survey showed "anger" was the top word independents now use to describe how they feel. When Democrats won in 2008, it had been "hope." Ironically, Martha Coakley on election eve had a 21-point advantage over Brown on who would take on Wall Street to deliver for Main Street, but voters didn't believe she would get it done in Washington. Polling for Americans for Financial Reform, shows a whopping 70% of independents support a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to lead such reforms; yet Democrats are cutting deals to weaken the bill. As the President has called for, we need to pass tough financial reform.
  4. Democrats must pass and define health care reform. Massachusetts is a unique prism to examine the health care issue because they have reform which two-thirds of their voters like (Washington Post Kaiser poll). It's true that they were split on the Congressional health reform, but they (like voters nationwide) had no idea what was in it. Brown characterized it as a plan that would provide what they already had, increase their taxes, and add a tax on union plans. When we tested the specifics of ending preexisting conditions, strengthening Medicare, and closing the donut hole - it was one of the strongest messages for Martha Coakley and against Scott Brown. Democrats must pass comprehensive reform and take out the tax on Cadillac plans. They cannot go to the voters having failed on this accomplishment after a year of focus.
  5. Finally, angry voters are motivated, complacent and frustrated voters are not. As the Women's Voices. Women Vote poll showed, Democrats suffered turnout problems in Massachusetts with minority, young, and unmarried women voters. The Battleground survey showed that nationwide, Republicans and independents (77% likely) are far more motivated than Democrats (64%), including even African American voters (58%). To motivate our base and swing the independents we need to seize back and deliver on the change that won our elections in 2008. In 2010, voters will vote for change. We can produce the change or be the victims of it.

Celinda Lake, Democratic Pollster and Pollster for Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's campaign.

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