Thursday, March 02, 2006

Will Mihos Destroy the State Republican Party?

Will Ash Wednesday, 2006, be known as the day the Massachusetts GOP self-immolated? Now that Christy Mihos is running as an independent, the GOP looks like it may lose the one foothold it has left in state politics -- the governor's office. Without the governorship, and since they do not seem to be running any other credible candidates for statewide offices, the state GOP will be almost entirely without influence on Beacon Hill -- a tiny coalition of legislators. Now, it's a long way until November, and there's plenty of time for scandals, or for the candidates to come down with foot-in-mouth disease, but after yesterday it just got more difficult for Republicans to win back the corner office.

Let me explain, because some people are skeptical. I am not saying that the Democrats are now guaranteed victory in November. It is possible that Christy Mihos might win, and it's still not impossible (though I think it's unlikely) that Kerry Healey could win. Here's what I want to stress. The Republicans have been winning the governorship with a coalition of registered Republicans, anti-tax independents and disaffected Democrats. While Healey is likely to get the vote of the Republicans, there aren't that many of them, when compared with the size of the other two groups combined. Those independents and Democrats are just as likely to vote for Healey as Mihos (assuming he runs a credible campaign, which is not a given either). The point I'm trying to make is that Mihos breaks up the Republican's coalition. To my mind, that means that Healey will have great difficulty winning in November. The question for the Democrats is to what extent does the entry of Mihos break up our coalition? Mihos will, polls show, take votes from the Democratic candidate, but it remains to be seen if he and Healey will end up taking more votes beyond those already predisposed to vote against the Democrat (about one out of four votes in 1998).

The question I have, and that we'll all find out come Novemeber, is whether Mihos will be a Ross Perot (1996) or a Jesse Ventura (1998). If he's a Perot, he'll manage a few percentage points from disaffected voters, but won't end up changing the outcome of the election. If he's a Ventura, he'll end up squeaking by both the Republican and the Democrat, and muddle through four tumultuous years before declining to run for a second term. I can't see him as being successful as a governor, if only because of what Scott Brown said on NECN last night: he has no political base now. Republicans aren't going to want to work with him after this betrayal, and if he really is a Republican by temperament, the Democrats in the legislature can just ignore him.

On another note, the Herald is reporting that five members of his campaign team resigned yesterday. True, they weren't resigning in protest of his running as an independent, they were resigning because he was "unmanageable". Most of those that left are now supporting Kerry Healey. There is a danger that Mihos has, running as an independent, that he will not be seen as a candidate with a realistic chance of winning. If he spends a ton of money, he can help mitigate this, but if people end up thinking that this is a third-party vanity candidacy, he may not be able to break out of Green Party or Libertarian turnout in November.