Jack Corrigan has been a leading Democratic campaign operative since he worked for Senator Edward Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign. He has been actively involved in every Democratic presidential campaign since then. A Massachusetts native, Corrigan knows the politics of the Bay State as well as anyone. We asked him about Elizabeth Warren’s rumoured US Senate campaign, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and the upcoming 2012 general election. Here’s what he had to say:
1. There’s been lots of talk about Elizabeth Warren making a run for the Democratic nomination for the US Senate in Massachusetts. Where do things stand with that?
Ms. Warren announced that she was going to go to Legoland with her grandchildren before she would make a decision on the Senate race. So Massachusetts Democrats are waiting for her return, when presumably she will start testing the waters with activists and donors. In the meantime, anonymous sources are sniping at her in the press, without much impact.
2. If she does run, what are her chances of winning the Democratic nomination and what are her chances of defeating the incumbent (Republican Scott Brown)?
The nomination: very high. Ms. Warren is generating interest because the current field is weak, and no well-established political figure has shown interest. Ranking the current field by fundraising so far: the current frontrunner, Alan Khazei, was the 3rd place finisher in the 2009 primary for the 2010 special election to fill Kennedy’s seat. The second place candidate was elected to his first office, as Mayor of the middle-sized city of Newton, two years ago. These folks and the other candidates are well-liked on a personal level, and may grow into stronger candidates over time, but the Democratic party and its activists want to win, and will gravitate to a candidate who shows promise of winning. Ms. Warren is seen as substantive, telegenic, and relentlessly on message, with fundraising potential because of the following she has built up as a voice for the little guy since the economic crash in 2008. It also won’t hurt that she’s a woman; that remains an advantage in the Democratic primary, and it helps raise money.
In the general election, Scott Brown has some advantages: he enjoys reasonably high favorables in the polls, and has somewhere north of $8 million on hand. He has been skillful in positioning himself as something of an independent – closer to the women of Maine, Senators Snowe and Collins, than the national Republican leadership. On the other hand, his margin in 2010 against Martha Coakley was pretty close, in a special election that due to its timing became a national proxy for the fight over health care reform. Most of his current campaign balance came in the mail, at a million a day, prior to that special election, as he drew national attention and money. Since then, the Democrats addressed some of their organizational decay, and swept the 2010 elections (in Massachusetts). And 2012 will be a presidential turnout year, which will bring a lot of Democratic-leaning voters to the polls who didn’t vote in the special or general election in 2010.
So, if she raises money, does not develop a currently unforeseen serious campaign liability, and executes well, the contest between Warren and former high school basketball player “Downtown Scotty Brown” is a jump ball.
3. What’s your sense of your former governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign this time around?
He is much more disciplined, and running a campaign that seems pretty good from an execution standpoint. He has an experienced, competent team around him, and seems to stick to his plan more than he has in the past.
It’s ironic that Romney’s most significant accomplishment in the public sector is a political liability; he and his team really were central to the passage of health care reform in Massachusetts, which now has much higher rates of coverage than anywhere else in the country. And the idea that seems politically problematic for him, the individual mandate, started as a Republican idea decades ago, I believe with Bob Dole. Romney deserves credit for compromising with the Democrats – including his former adversary, Senator Kennedy, – and for persuading Democrats to support the individual mandate.
Running on economic expertise, though, opens up his business record as a legitimate issue for scrutiny– which was the key to beating him back in 1994. That, plus his well-established pattern of flip-flopping on key issues, will give his primary opponents and the Obama campaign some fodder.
4. What’s your view of the Obama re-election campaign?
The campaign apparatus is organised, systematic, and relentless, with competent leadership. They will raise money well, and they will build very good organisations in states; the field director is the best there is today, and they are training organisers across the country. Their 2008 campaign was , by far, the best executed presidential campaign I’ve seen, and they are likely to execute very well again.
On the political climate – I share the conventional wisdom that much depends on the economy. I would also hope that the Obama operation heeds their own conclusion about the failure to communicate in 2008, and learns from it.
5. How do you think the general election campaign will unfold?
I don’t think it’ll be a 2000/2004 scenario, with the outcome hanging on one state with shoddy voting machines. The President will either pull his message together, run a good campaign, and win a clear electoral majority, or the Republican will win a national referendum for change – again with a clear majority. If I were advising the campaign, I’d tell them to plan on the cliffhanger, and prepare for that, but the 2004 scenario is pretty unusual for an incumbent President’s re-election. And Obama has governed from the centre (creating some enthusiasm issues on the left), so the election is likely to ride on the right track/wrong track numbers. And I think the Republican nominating process now works more like the Democratic process used to, pushing candidates away from the mainstream.
And as it unfolds, I would expect the tone and atmosphere of the campaign to be harsh.
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