Massachusetts Democrats and Republicans are chewing over this year’s two marquee political races for lessons they can use in 2012 — including U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s re-election campaign.
When Brown, a Republican, seized the Senate seat formerly held by Democrat Edward Kennedy in January, it revealed a more conservative side of Massachusetts that GOP leaders hoped would propel them into top offices on Election Day.
Brown’s surprise win also forced state Democrats to rethink how they lost what had been considered one of the safest Democratic seats in Congress — and how to hold onto the governor’s office in a year when Republicans were eyeing big wins.
An Associated Press review of town-by-town election returns shows Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick gained re-election in part by winning back more than two dozen cities and towns Brown had captured in the Senate race, including Lowell and Quincy.
Equally important, Patrick racked up lopsided wins in liberal and Democratic strongholds and narrowed his losing margin in communities won by his GOP rival Charles Baker.
Patrick lost just four of the state’s 25 most populous cities and towns, compared with Democratic Senate nominee Martha Coakley, who lost nine to Brown.
For Democratic leaders, the biggest lesson learned was the value of turnout in a state that still largely favors their party.
They credit a massive “get out the vote” drive Nov. 2 with not only delivering Patrick a second term, but also the party’s ability to hold onto all 10 U.S. House seats and every other statewide political office.
“One thing that became obvious in the final weeks of the campaign was that Democratic voters were coming home,” said John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
Jennifer Nassour, chairwoman of the state Republican party, cautioned against drawing too many parallels between the two campaigns, saying Brown was a stronger candidate than Baker.
“It would be unfortunate to look at Charlie Baker and Scott Brown as the same person,” she said.
In the governor’s race, Walsh said the party focused as much on driving up vote totals in communities that typically vote Democratic as it did on narrowing the margin of victory in Republican-leaning areas.
He pointed to his hometown of Abington, which favored the Republican candidate in both races.
In January, about 66 percent of voters backed Brown, compared with just 51 percent who supported Baker. While Patrick pulled in a handful more voters than Coakley in the town, Baker fell 965 short of the Brown’s tally.
Abington turned out to be a microcosm of much of the rest of the state.
One major difference between the two races was the presence of two independent gubernatorial candidates, including state Treasurer Timothy Cahill. In Abington, for instance, Cahill captured 14 percent of the total.
Walsh, however, chalked up the wider margins for Patrick to a full-court press by Democrats.
“The tactics that we used a few weeks ago are not magical. There’s no pixie dust,” he said. “It’s good, hard work.”
In Boston, the party enlisted the help of Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat. Patrick won the city by 76,421 votes, compared with Coakley’s winning margin of 58,821 votes.
Republicans are also weighing the two elections as they look ahead to Brown’s re-election campaign.
Eric Fehrnstrom, a top Brown adviser, said Democrats deserve credit for running a strong campaign, but he noted that Patrick still garnered less than half of all votes cast — 48 percent — in the four-way race.
“I think the last election underscored how difficult it is for a Republican to win in Massachusetts, even against a weak Democrat,” Fehrnstrom said. “People like (former Govs.) Bill Weld, Mitt Romney and Scott Brown are the exception, not the rule.”
Brown also has some significant advantages.
Polls show he is popular with Massachusetts voters. He’s adopted a more moderate GOP stance by occasionally breaking with his party. And he has an enormous fundraising edge, with more than $6.7 million in his account.
Adding to the mix is the fact that 2012 is a presidential election year, which typically drives up voter turnout. That election could also include Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and possible GOP presidential contender.
“Sen. Brown knows he has his work cut out for him, and that’s why he’s not taking anything for granted,” Fehrnstrom said.
Walsh said a higher presidential year turnout could bode well for Democrats.
“In Massachusetts, more voters generally means more Democrats,” he said.