Why Independents Are Key to Mass. Senate Race

All eyes are glued to the Massachusetts Senate race where upstart Republican Scott Brown is now in a dead heat with presumed shoo-in Martha Coakley. Non-partisan pollster and analyst Stuart Rothenberg recently and surprisingly placed the race into the “toss up” column. Some polls like Suffolk University/7News has Brown up four; PJM/Cross Target conducted on January 14th have Brown 15 points ahead.

Many have speculated that residents are unhappy about the health reform bill Democrats are forcing through Congress. While this might be somewhat true, Massachusetts is facing its own challenges from fiscal disaster to deep debt, and a universal healthcare plan implemented by Mitt Romney that has become an unpopular cost-containment nightmare to an impending pension crisis.

The overtaxing and overspending is so pronounced that former Mass Governor Bill Weld says it’s sparked a “primeval reaction” that has transferred to a federal race.

"I think people in Massachusetts, like people all over the country, are suffering from accumulated spending fatigue. First the TARP program, then the stimulus package, then further bailouts, then the price tag on the health care bill, then tax increases-- it has all added up to be too much for the average voter," Weld explains.

The reason for the shift in the race is that these issues are prompting disgust in a key demo: independents.

Many assume that the birthplace of Camelot, the Kennedys and ultra leftist institutions like Harvard translates to a Commonwealth dominated by liberals. Not so. Independents make up roughly 42% of the vote which is the reason Republicans, in recent years, have won statewide elections (Governors Romney, Paul Celucci, and Weld).

The role of the independent vote in the state, says Weld, is “dominant.”

“Independents are swing voters or else they wouldn’t choose to be unenrolled” (unenrolled refers to the status of the independents, meaning they can vote for the party of their choice in primaries).

Polling shows a consistent concern among independents nationally and locally. They oppose rabid, uncontrollable spending and one party control. They don’t like the idea that we’re charging our future to the US credit card and that Democrats hold the keys to the castles.

As a voting block, Independents prove that audiences aren’t monolithic. They’re pragmatic and solutions oriented. They’re turned off by overly politicized messages. They gather information differently, generally listening to the loudest voice in the cafeteria (Exhibit A: Tea Party protest footage).

As S.A. Miller writes in The Washington Times, “Democratic Party leaders were slow to recognize the spread of the anti-government tea party sentiment to a Democratic stronghold like Massachusetts, in a race that was once projected to be a cakewalk for Mrs. Coakley.”

Slow to recognize it? Democrats downright discounted and criticized the legitimacy and power of this growing movement. That arrogance is now their Achilles heel.

If Brown is able to pull off a win it’ll be a jaw-dropper and a crushing blow to the left. Not only will Brown serve as the 41st vote in the Senate, allowing Republicans to block every legislative attempt by Democrats going forward, he’ll also show that even the most solid Democratic seats and strongholds are vulnerable because of the bad behavior of their party. Even if Brown comes close – within a few points – it spells bad news and will serve as an indication of what’s to come politically in the 2010 midterms.

Republicans should be paying attention to Brown’s strategy and message – and how Independents turn out and why. And Democrats? Well, they should be very afraid.

Andrea Tantaros is a conservative commentator and FoxNews.com contributor. She served as press secretary to House Republican leadership and was former press secretary to former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. Follow her on Twitter: @andreatantaros.