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Michael Barone: Democratic numbers in Massachusetts lower than 2009

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone,Democratic Party,Massachusetts

Looking at the returns from the Massachusetts special Senate primary yesterday, I note that Democratic turnout was 539,827, down 19% from the 668,016 in the December 2009 special Senate primary. The winner this time, Rep. Edward Markey, actually had slightly fewer votes (309,854) than the 2009 winner, Attorney General Martha Coakley (311,548) –- at least in returns currently reported. And this year’s primary was more closely contested. Markey beat Rep. Stephen Lynch 57%-43%, while Coakley’s margin over second-place finisher Rep. Michael Capuano was 47%-28%.

I note also that Markey, who was endorsed by environmental groups, ran behind Lynch in the grittier parts of the state, Worcester County and southeast Massachusetts (Bristol, Plymouth and Norfolk counties), though much of the latter area is in Lynch’s district. Markey won heavily in his home area, and he got 80% of the vote in Nantucket and Dukes counties (the latter is Martha’s Vineyard). Massachusetts Democratic primaries tend to be contests between gentry liberals and grittier working-class types; Hillary Clinton, with support from the latter, beat Barack Obama there in 2008.

Republican turnout was actually up 15%, from 164,540 in 2009 to 188,824 yesterday. That may simply reflect the fact that there was no serious contest in 2009; the then-little-known Scott Brown won 89% of the vote. This contest was more seriously contested, with Gabriel Gomez beating Michael Sullivan 51%-36%.

In December 2009 very few observers thought Scott Brown would beat Coakley, as he did Jan. 19, 2010. That changed in early January when Scott Rasmussen reported that his poll showed Coakley ahead by only 50%-41%. I and others took that as a sign pointing toward a Republican win. The drop in Democratic and rise in Republican turnout point in the same direction. And perhaps Markey’s apparent weakness among working-class Democratic voters does, too. But the odds are still pretty long against a second Republican upset.

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Michael Barone

Senior Political Analyst
The Washington Examiner