Massachusetts Republicans did not need a reminder of the potency of the state’s Democratic machine, but on Tuesday that machine unseated the lone Republican in the Washington delegation and reelected every congressional Democrat, including one declared vulnerable by prognosticators.
The vaunted machine flexed its considerable muscle with a ground game that reclaimed the US Senate seat in Massachusetts, while salvaging the campaign of Representative John F. Tierney, on a night when every congressional seat in New England went to a Democrat or an independent.
“Here’s the reality: There has been a wipeout of the GOP in the Northeast,” said Todd Domke, a Republican strategist. “And it’s been particularly bad in Massachusetts.”
In addition to their congressional successes, the Democrats picked up four seats in the Legislature.
The Democrats were aided by a strong get-out-the-vote effort in Massachusetts and the experience of activists who had been coordinating since Deval Patrick’s grass-roots win in 2006.
Those same activists had been humiliated when Brown won in a 2010 special election, a three-month sprint in which the Democrats appeared flat-footed. This time, they were out in full force, visiting an estimated 242,000 households over the weekend to get out the vote. On Tuesday, some 20,000 volunteers helped get out the vote for Democrats, about 10 times as many as in 2010, said Kevin Franck, spokesman for the state Democratic Party.
Their voters, of course, were also turning out in greater numbers to back incumbent President Obama, at the top of the ticket. But on the ground, Democratic volunteers were coordinating to deliver wavering voters to the polls.
Much of that might came from the state’s labor unions. Over the course of the campaign, union members knocked on the doors of 327,936 union households, said Steven A. Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. They made 242,000 phone calls to union households, distributed 250,000 leaflets to 175 work sites, and worked 10,708 volunteer shifts, he said, often standing for hours outside Warren’s events.
That focus was intended, in part, to blunt Brown’s appeal to union members, who had vaulted him to victory in 2010, when an estimated 49 percent of union members voted for him.
“We knew we had to work hard, communicate to others, because Scott was very easy to like,” said Tolman.
This time, polls from labor estimated that 61 percent of union households voted with Warren, Tolman said.
But the effort was also aimed at preserving unions, which have felt increasingly threatened since Tea Party and conservative influences aiming to shrink government and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin won conservative praise for stripping collective bargaining rights from public unions.
“We did it for a mission,” Tolman said. “We did it because we had to do it. We were under attack.”
The get-out-the-vote effort was particularly useful in sustaining Tierney.
‘We did it for a mission. We did it because we had to do it. We were under attack.’
“I’m so excited, because that was a race we knew was going to be difficult,” said Tolman, who pointed to the blistering negativity of the race.
Tierney’s chances dimmed after his wife pleaded guilty to tax fraud in connection with her brothers’ offshore gambling ring. Tierney’s Republican challenger, Richard R. Tisei, was viewed as the GOP’s best chance to claim a seat in the House, and ads fixed ominously on the Tierney family scandal.
But unions saw the incumbent as a valuable ally. “John Tierney has been a champion for middle-class issues,” said Tolman.
John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, has attributed Brown’s 2010 win less to Republican energy than to the lackluster Democratic turnout in a traditionally Democratic state.
Walsh set out to reverse that effect this year. He rebuilt the coordinated grass-roots effort the party has been refining since Walsh had helped propel Deval Patrick to the governor’s office in 2006.
In some targeted communities, the volunteers launched an elaborate and persistent get-out-the-vote operation. Last weekend, for example, in a pocket of Republican-leaning Plymouth County, they targeted 6,400 households in Walsh’s own town of Abington, along with nearby Whitman and East Bridgewater.
On Election Day, the volunteers monitored the voting rolls, checking off the names of supporters who had showed up. Those who did not got a visit. And another. And another. For those who still had not voted by 4 p.m., Walsh said, “we were at their door three times.”
Brown still won Abington, but his win was less substantial than it might have been, Walsh said. In 2010, 6,246 voters turned out, and Brown claimed 67 percent of the vote in that community, Walsh said. This time, the turnout surged to 8,232 voters, and Brown’s margin shrank to 60 percent.
“In a small, Republican-leaning town, we reduced Scott Brown’s margin and increased the turnout,” Walsh said.
Still, he credits Warren’s win to much more than the Democratic operation. “This was a dead-heat race that ended up being an eight-point win,” said Walsh. “This was not a close election.”
On that point, Domke, the Republican strategist agreed.
“That was an eight-point gap,” he said. “That was not just explained by a Democratic machine. That was a number of mistakes that the Brown campaign made.”Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter