If You Fail to Plan, Then You Plan to Fail

Like my colleague David Atkins, I think a Hillary Clinton-Elizabeth Warren ticket would be a strong one for the national Democratic Party; on MSNBC this morning, Joy Reid also noted Warren’s merits as a running mate for Clinton. However, as a Massachusetts native, I cannot dismiss concerns that Warren’s departure from the Senate upon becoming Vice President would quickly become a disaster for the state Democratic Party.

Under current Massachusetts law, a special election to fill a vacant US House or Senate seat must be held at least 145 days (but not more than 160 days) after the seat becomes vacant. Between the time the vacancy commences and the day of the special election, the governor–in this case, Republican Charlie Baker–must appoint an interim US Senator.

In the two most recent Bay State US Senate vacancies (the passing of Ted Kennedy in 2009 and the resignation of John Kerry to become Secretary of State in 2013), the appointed interim Senators–former Democratic National Committee head Paul Kirk and prominent attorney Mo Cowan, respectively–agreed not to run for the office while serving as interim Senator. It is quite likely that Baker will also have his interim appointment agree not to run for the office–because Baker, highly popular in Massachusetts, will not be able to resist the urge to run for the seat himself.

This should scare progressives in Massachusetts; as I have previously noted, the state Democratic Party seems uninterested in confronting Baker on the more offensive aspects of his record, presumably due to his tremendous popularity. It is difficult to imagine the state party suddenly moving from legarthic to lithe when it comes to making the case against a Senate candidate Baker–and it is also difficult to imagine the national Democratic Party and/or progressive Super PACs doing enough damage to Baker to substantially diminish his popularity going into a special election.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Baker selected Richard Tisei, his running mate during his failed first gubernatorial bid in 2010, to serve as interim US Senator. Tisei, himself a failed twotime Congressional candidate, is openly gay, and mainstream-media coverage of Baker appointing a  supposed moderate who happens to be a member of the LGBTQ community would continue to promote the (questionable-at-best) idea that Baker is an old-school, anti-wingnut Northeastern Republican.

Unless Democrats can find a strong candidate, Baker will likely win Warren’s vacated Senate seat–and it may not be as easy to dislodge him in 2018 (when he would have to run for a full six-year Senate term) as it was to dislodge Scott Brown (the Republican winner of the January 2010 special election to fill Kennedy’s seat) when he tried to run for a full term in 2012. Even if one accepts the premise that Baker isn’t a wingnut, he’s manifestly not a progressive either–and the thought of Baker spending several years occupying the same seat Kennedy and Warren used to deliver dignity to the disadvantaged should horrify those who admire both Democrats.

Republicans and conservatives gained power and privilege in part by thinking several years and several election cycles ahead. Are Democrats and progressives doing the same? At this point, there is scant evidence that Democrats and progressives in Massachusetts are taking seriously the prospect of Baker ultimately becoming the state’s next Senator, and thinking about the problems Baker could cause on Capitol Hill. Are they assuming that a Democrat will win a special Senate election? (Yeah, that worked out well in 2010). Or are they assuming that if he’s elected, a Senator Baker wouldn’t be that bad from a progressive standpoint? And if the answer to either question is yes, can we assume that they’re fooling themselves?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.