By William Lewis
The Massachusetts miracle of 2010, in which state Sen. Scott Brown (R-Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex) defeated Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in an upset U.S. Senate race, has a precedent in the not-too-distant past. In the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race of 1952, incumbent Republican Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. was defeated in an upset race by Democrat John F. Kennedy.
Lodge at first did not take the JFK challenge seriously. He spent most of his time directing Dwight Eisenhower’s campaign for the presidency. He was successful in getting Eisenhower elected, but in so doing lost his U.S. Senate seat to JFK. John and then Ted Kennedy held that seat for the next 58 years.
The Democratic Party in Massachusetts at first did not take Brown seriously since Coakley held a huge lead over him in the polls. When it finally did take him seriously toward the end of the campaign, however, it was too late. Brown could not be stopped.
Here in New York, this year is looking like a Republican year, but the New York state Republican Party seems to be having a lot of difficulty in designating candidates for the governorship and two U.S. Senate races. It is generally accepted that candidates for statewide office running at the top of the ballot affect how well candidates for local office do.
Right now it seems state Republican Chairman Ed Cox seems to favor Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to become the GOP candidate for governor. Levy is a conservative Democrat who has been elected with Republican support before.
Former U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio is also interested in becoming the GOP standard bearer for governor. He has an advantage in that he has run for statewide office before when he ran against Hillary Clinton in 2000. He has name recognition and strong support in Suffolk and Nassau counties. His recent endorsement from the Queens Republican Party has added momentum to his candidacy.
It is unusual that both of the GOP candidates for governor are from Suffolk County. There does not seem to be any big-name candidates for the U.S. Senate races this year against U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) or Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Part of the problem is that former Mayor Rudy Giuliani took six months to decide that he would not run for governor or the U.S. Senate. This to some extent had the effect of keeping other potential candidates from declaring their interest.
Turning to the independent vote as it pertains to election results, it is becoming increasingly important, as shown by the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, where voters not registered with any political party voted overwhelmingly for Brown. The independent vote helped President Barack Obama in several key states during the presidential race of 2008.
Brown thought the independent vote was important enough to refer to the “will of the independent majority” in commenting on his victory.
Queens Independence Party Chair Molly Honigsfeld indicated that independents were instrumental in helping to elect Obama and that he is not listening to these voters. Therefore, he is paying the price as demonstrated by the results of the Massachusetts special election.
Honigsfeld also referred to the three Queens Republicans who were elected to the City Council in November. They all had Independence Party endorsements, which contributed to their election success. She said, “We are dedicated to the restructuring of the political system. Independents do not want partisan politics.”
Independent voters not affiliated with any political party will continue to play a major role in future elections. Both major political parties will be competing for their support.
This year also promises to be a hard fight to control the state Senate, with the Democrats holding a two-seat majority over the Republicans. One important part of that struggle involves state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who is expected to be challenged by former Councilman Tony Avella.