So all signs are now pointing to Scott Brown winning today’s special election in Massachusetts for the seat that Ted Kennedy held for 47 years. Of course, the competition for the most compelling explanation for the upset has already begun. Martha Coakley ran a terrible campaign, Brown is an appealing guy, voters are upset about the economy, Massachusetts has already enacted its own version of health reform, Democrats at the state level are unpopular, Doug Flutie, etc.
Let’s look a little closer at the economy argument, but specifically in the Massachusetts context. In November, the state’s unemployment rate was 8.8 percent, below the U.S. rate of 10.0 percent. The state’s three major metropolitan areas--Boston, Worcester, and Springfield--have all been middling performers over the full course of the recession, but their job losses have generally been less severe than the national average. In fact, Worcester was one of the only large metropolitan areas nationwide that added jobs in the third quarter (July through September) of 2009. Which makes it all the more ironic that Worcester seems to be one of the areas of the state where Brown is running strongest.
Perhaps, then, the other non-economic explanations for Coakley’s and Brown’s performance have more merit. Or maybe Massachusetts voters are exercising their frustration at the state of the national economy, rather than their local economies. Either way, the upshot is that if Massachusetts voters are indeed angry about the economy, and thus inclined to pull the lever for Republicans, it could spell bad news for Democrats in the much more economically depressed portions of the country come this fall.