On Tuesday, Massachusetts voters made the historic choice to elect State Senator Scott Brown, the state's first Republican US Senator in almost half a decade. The implications of this election cannot be understated. Just before Christmas, a poll placed State Attorney General Martha Coakley with an unsurprising double-digit lead over rival Scott Brown. It's true that Martha Coakley had her fair share of gaffes on the campaign trail, joining the legacy of embarrassing female politicians in the Bay State. Also true is the flawlessness of Brown's well-fought campaign to narrowly defeat "Yankees Suck" as a write-in candidate.
But this election has served as a signal of the new reality for Democrats facing re-election around the country: even in the bluest of states, no Democratic candidate can rest on the laurels of past party loyalty.
Barbara Boxer, the junior Senator from California, is no exception. A recent Rasmussen Poll shows Boxer with a narrow lead over Republican contenders Carly Fiorina, Tom Campbell, and Chuck DeVore. But after Tuesday's previously deemed unattainable feat in Massachusetts, Republican donors will be more inclined to present a newfound faith in Republican candidates. Moreover, a Field Poll shows Obama's poll numbers slipping in California - proving that vulnerable Democrats in this state can no longer rely on the coattails of Obama's expected campaign stumps on their behalf.
In addition, a new ruling by the US Supreme Court will open the floodgates of corporate funding for candidates in 2010, much to the benefit of Republican candidates. Today's ruling will upend federal campaign finance laws, allowing limitless spending from corporations on behalf of political candidates. With a frustrated and angered electorate in California, expect those interests to gain funding like never before. This also means those with corporate ties to former CEO Carly Fiorina can open the corporate coffers without limit, much to the chagrin of both Boxer and Republican rivals alike.
Although support for the Obama healthcare plan is higher in California than it is nationally, Boxer's legislative agenda may prove difficult to justify come fall. With the fate of the healthcare bill still undecided, Boxer will have to rely on her other legislative achievements to fulfill the challenging wishes of independent voters seeking change in Washington.
Boxer's major initiative this legislative year, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, may prove to seal Boxer's destiny. Fortunately for Boxer, the bill has been sufficiently watered down enough that even the likes of Shell, General Motors, and General Electric have signed on with their support. Proving himself as a further thorn in Boxer's side, Scott Brown has announced that he questions the validity of global warming, and has stated his opposition to climate change legislation such as cap and trade.
And as of this morning, Boxer became the latest 'no' vote to the nomination of Ben Bernanke to a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Using carefully crafted language, Boxer's statement read,
"It is time for Main Street to have a champion at the Fed. Dr. Bernanke played a lead role in crafting the Bush administration's economic policies, which led to the current economic crisis."
Boxer, not usually known for her political dominance on economic issues, will have to prove herself a 'middle of the road' candidate come November to handle the likes of any of her major Republican opponents.
But with so much of her political and legislative destiny out of her hands, one thing Boxer can work on is being especially careful to avoid emulating Coakley's campaign blunders and missteps. Although Boxer has always maintained her status as a fearless pitbull, this has by no means excused her from some of her past speaking errors and brusque behavior as a politician. For instance, when asked her opinion about state initiatives Propositions 1A-1F this past spring, Boxer snipped,
"Our plate's been so full we haven't looked at it. You may have noticed that we've been a little hectic and very involved in our work in Washington."
Coakley, too, had a tough time following the legacy of Massachusetts icon Tip O'Neill's famous words of caution, "All politics is local."
Boxer has indeed acknowledged the tough road ahead for her. In a Washington press conference, Boxer asserted: "Every state is now in play, absolutely." The lesson from Massachusetts, she said, is "never, ever, ever take an election for granted." In the coming months, Boxer supporters can only hope that she isn't defeated by those local details.