BOSTON —It’s a double victory for Republicans: Republican Scott Brown has won the U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts and taken away from the Democratic majority in Congress its critical 60th vote in the Senate.
The vote Tuesday was a special election held to fill the remaining term of the late Senator Ted Kennedy who succumbed to brain cancer last August after serving 46 years. While Kennedy was seen as one of the Senate’s most reliable champions for civil rights, including for the LGBT community, Brown is seen as a staunch opponent. Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general, was also seen as a strong supporter of LGBT civil rights, making Tuesday’s result an even more stinging loss for the community.
With all the precincts reporting, Brown defeated Coakley by a 52 to 47 percent margin, according to New England Cable News.
The secretary of state predicted more than 40 percent of the electorate would show up to vote in the hotly contested race; but in most cities and towns, turnout surpassed 50 percent and was as high as 70 percent-plus in some towns. Turnout in predominantly gay neighborhoods, such as Boston’s South End and Provincetown was also reportedly high.
Gay civil rights groups worked intensely on a gay get-out-the-vote effort in support of Coakley.
MassEquality sent e-mail alerts to a 40,000-member e-mail list, as well as direct snail-mail literature to 10,000 members, according to Dee Dee Edmondson, political director for the group. Openly gay state Rep. Carl Sciortino also recorded a message for the organization in response to anti gay-baiting robo calls that were generated over the weekend by the National Organization for Marriage. And all week MassEquality volunteers staffed phone banks to remind LGBT people to vote. Unlike the 1990 gubernatorial race, this election was not close enough for the LGBT vote to make a difference.
“Despite Scott Brown’s victory,” said LGBT community leader Elyse Cherry of Brookline, a Coakley supporter, “people here have gotten quite used to equal marriage. It’s hard for me to see that changing.” Cherry was on hand at the Boston Sheraton where Coakley supporter gathered for election night returns. And while “Brown has a very strong anti-gay record,” Cherry said, “it’s not clear that [anti-gay sentiment] drove this election.”
But the special election took an ugly turn last weekend, when an out-of-state organization employed anti-gay marriage messages in an effort to promote Brown’s candidacy.
With barely three days left in the already short special election campaign, the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage began on Saturday to deliver a series of automated anti-gay “robo” phone calls in support of Brown and against Coakley. In the calls, which originated in a 202 area code from the Washington, D.C., a recorded male voice asks residents if they view marriage defined as “only between one man and one woman.” If they indicated “Yes,” they were urged to vote for Brown, “the only candidate with a proven track record” of supporting traditional marriage. The call also labeled Coakley as a “radical” same-sex marriage supporter who opposed letting the people vote on the issue and who used taxpayer dollars to support a same-sex marriage “agenda.”
And yet Coakley stood firm on her commitment to marriage equality. During a rally at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Hotel last Friday, Coakley re-affirmed that support before a primarily straight ballroom packed full of 1,500 Democratic Party national and statewide first-string movers and shakers, including former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator John Kerry, Governor Deval Patrick, U.S. Reps Ed Markey and Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray, and Boston Mayor Tom Menino, among other state and local elected officials.
“I want my nieces and my nephews to grow up in world where they can have a good education, in a world that is safe, and that respects their choices in life— whom to marry, for instance,” said Coakley. Many LGBT supporters identified Coakley’s decision to challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act in federal court as one of the reasons they supported her.
LGBT activist Don Gorton of Boston said he thinks Brown “escaped scrutiny for his socially conservative beliefs that are at odds with the Massachusetts mainstream.”
And Democratic party gay activist Craig Winskowicz of Boston, who attended the Clinton rally for Coakley, voiced a widespread LGBT community view of Brown.
“This is a guy who actually wrote anti-gay legislation for [former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney] and was a big Romney supporter, trying to stop gay marriage.”
But national political observers were crediting Brown’s victory to a big boost from independent voters, many of who are reportedly unhappy about what they see as a failure of President Obama and the Democrats to produce results quickly enough on the economy, health care reform, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And in Massachusetts, anger has also been rising over the latest reports of corruption in the Democratic-controlled legislature, where several state lawmakers, including a former House speaker, have resigned in disgrace. There was also a perception by many that Coakley and the Democrats believed Kennedy’s Senate seat was a done deal and that voters would pay homage to Kennedy’s legacy by preserving it as a Democratic seat.
Wherever the truth lies, the numbers write the bottom line: Democrats and their Independent comrades can now boast only 59 votes in a Senate that has been deeply divided over a number of issues. And without that 60th vote, neither the Senate, nor Congress, is expected to be able to move any controversial legislation.