Tuesday’s elections were full of surprises, upsets, and challenges to the conventional wisdom. Many political observers like to use meteorological or oceanographic analogies in describing the impact of elections. Already, pundits have referred to Tuesday’s election as a progressive “tsunami” or “earthquake.” A careful analysis of Tuesday’s results shows something different and more complicated.
The defeats of House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez in Jamaica Plain and House Assistant Majority Leader Byron Rushing in the South End are viewed by many experts as an upending of the established political order. I believe they are more accurately viewed as “hot spots” in a political map that, in part, reflects gradual demographic and generational changes, but largely served as an outlet for enormous pent up frustration by Democrats felt at a national level under the Trump administration. These forces found an outlet in younger, less politically active voters who do not normally vote in state election primaries. Turnout in these districts was further boosted by the fierce battle between Capuano and Pressley for the Congressional primary.
On Beacon Hill, Speaker Deleo will be left needing to fill the void left by two larger-than-life individuals with deep subject matter expertise and even deeper connections to their communities. The work and accomplishments of both Sanchez and Rushing have been nothing short of remarkable at both the state and local level, and the mark that they left on the Commonwealth will be felt long after they leave. Speaker DeLeo has demonstrated a great adaptability to changing circumstances, but the loss of these two leaders represents a new challenge. DeLeo and party leaders, in general, may view Tuesday’s results as a possible foreshadowing of a major change in Democratic Primary dynamics. With the vast majority of incumbent Democratic legislators being untouchable in a general election, many may be left feeling very vulnerable from the left in future primaries. It remains to be seen how this new dynamic will impact votes on specific legislation and on the House agenda. If history is any guide, legislative leadership will learn to adapt to the new dynamics.
Tuesday’s results also highlighted the reality that while Massachusetts has two dominant political parties, each of its parties has two wings that will increasingly be at war with each other. On the Republican side, Governor Baker scored a commanding win in the Republican primary, but the far right and anti-gay crusader Scott Lively scored a surprising 35% of the Republican primary vote. Conversely, a look at the Republican primary results for U.S. Senate would seem to be indicative of a metamorphosis of the Massachusetts Republicans from the party of Ed Brooke, Frank Sargent, Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, Mitt Romney, and Charlie Baker, to the party of Donald Trump. State Representative Geoff Diehl, who was Trump’s Massachusetts chairman and entirely embraced both the Trump agenda and every available piece of “Make America Great Again” apparel, won a commanding 55% of the Republican Senate primary vote, earning a spot on the ticket opposite Elizabeth Warren in November. By contrast, Beth Lindstrom, who very much represented the moderate Massachusetts “Baker brand” of Republicanism, did not crack 20% of the vote in that race.
The seemingly conflicting and complicated results of Tuesday’s elections paint a murky picture of primary politics that will likely have party leaders scratching their heads and searching for solutions and strategies over the next two years.