With a GOP win in this week's special election in Massachusetts, how will Democrats shift their legislative agenda in the coming months? During today's OnPoint, E&E reporter Alex Kaplun explains how Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts will affect prospects for cap-and-trade passage. He also discusses how the president may shift his message during next week's State of the Union speech as a result of the election's outcome.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is E&E reporter Alex Kaplun. Alex, always great to have you here.
Alex Kaplun: Sure.
Monica Trauzzi: Alex, earlier this week Massachusetts held a special election for the Senate seat vacated after Senator Kennedy's death. Republican Scott Brown won the election in what is traditionally a very blue state. Broadly speaking, what does this outcome tell us about U.S. voters and what they're thinking right now?
Alex Kaplun: It kind of states the obvious, that voters are very unhappy with where things are going and the direction of the country. Democrats have openly admitted that one of the reasons that President Obama got into office, one of the reasons they have this huge majority is because they used some of that voter anger against Bush and that propelled him into office and what we've seen is the voter anger hasn't gone away. It's now transferred to the new people that are in power, that voters want the economy fixed, they want their government to work correctly and they're not giving Obama or Democrats a free pass just because they've been in office less than a year. That now they're responsible for what's happening in the country.
Monica Trauzzi: How significant is this for Massachusetts as a state?
Alex Kaplun: I think it's going to have huge ramifications for what happens on Capitol Hill precisely because it is Massachusetts. If this was an election in Arkansas or Tennessee or a more Republican area, it would still be a big deal. It wouldn't be quite as big a deal, but you're going to have a lot more Democrats who are nervous because this is a blue state. This is a state that they win even when things aren't going their way and I think it's going to show them that no matter where they are, they're not necessarily safe.
Monica Trauzzi: The Democrat in the race, Attorney General Martha Coakley, was criticized heavily for the way that she ran this race. Would you say that this was not about her and this was entirely a referendum on President Obama?
Alex Kaplun: Look, I don't think elections are ever about any one thing. You can rarely find a race and point in and say this is a thing that won or lost it. I wasn't in Massachusetts. Based on the media reports, Martha Coakley did run a poor campaign. She wasn't particularly liked by the establishment, she certainly has some blame. That being said, there's candidates a lot worse than Martha Coakley who have won elections in favorable climates. I don't think anyone would dispute that if the same race happened in 2006 or 2008, it's not even a race, that Martha Coakley wins easily. So, I think Democrats can look and say maybe she cost us this race. It was pretty close. If she had run a better campaign, maybe she pulls it out, but underneath it all there's a fundamental climate there that says the voters are, at the very least, even if they like Obama personally, are not willing to sort of go to the polls and just support his agenda because he says so.
Monica Trauzzi: How does this affect Democrats' mind-set heading into the November elections and also the kinds of legislation that we might actually see pass this year?
Alex Kaplun: I think as far as the mind-set, Democrats were already aware of voter unhappiness, that they were going to have serious problems. I think this only sharpens that and, again, it being Massachusetts is very important. People like Blanche Lincoln and some others in moderate swing districts knew they were going to have a tough race. It shouldn't come as a surprise to them. This might put on notice Democrats pretty much everywhere. Democrats who are running in Washington, Oregon, New York might say wait a minute, I need to really start thinking about my political future now because look what happened in Massachusetts. I mean that's both good and bad. You're going to have Democrats maybe not caught by surprise quite the way they would have been otherwise. It also will change how they approach legislation, what they're willing to support, what they're not willing to support.
Monica Trauzzi: So, the big question is how does this impact the push for cap and trade?
Alex Kaplun: There's the obvious change, I mean the Democrats went from an obvious yes vote on the legislation to a probable no vote. I think if you look more broadly, anyone who's been involved in the cap-and-trade debate has argued that they're going to need bipartisan support. That the Democratic leadership is not going to be able to pull off what they pulled off with a health care bill, just get the 60 Democratic votes and be done with it. So, I think that dynamic hasn't necessarily changed. The question is what happens to the mindset of some of those moderate voters. Do people now say I don't want to do cap and trade because look at the resentment that health care has created? We don't want to get in another similar fight. And I think that's one of the things to look at for the next couple of weeks, is we don't really know yet how the Obama administration, how Democratic leaders are going to respond to this and how they view the election is really going to affect how they approach legislation from here on out.
Monica Trauzzi: What are you hearing from your sources from inside the party about the significance of this election moving forward?
Alex Kaplun: I think the significance is that clearly Democrats are nervous and the State of the Union that's coming up is going to be very, very key to establishing what they do for the rest of the year. There have been complaints from a lot of directions. One of the complaints is that it's not really clear what the Obama administration and what the Democratic Party is about. They've been so overwhelmed by this health care legislation that the American people aren't sure, not only are they not happy with that bill, they're not sure where everything else is going, what's being done to fix the economy. We've talked a lot about how the economy is going to be the dominant issue for 2010. Everything is going to be determined by what that means, how they approach that. Does that mean they jettison cap and trade for fear that people are going to look at that as hurting the economy or does that mean that they sort of double down and push for it or push for some kind of other energy bill precisely because they think they can sell it as an economic benefit?
Monica Trauzzi: So, is your expectation that the outcome of the Massachusetts election might have a strong impact on what the president says next week in his State of the Union address?
Alex Kaplun: I would think so. I think Democrats are certainly going to look to him to give some kind of direction and articulate exactly what their message is going to be and what the party is going to be about. For the last at least six months they've been sort of all about health care. I don't know if health care is dead or not, if they're going to still try to push it forward, but it's clear that health care is not popular and they can't rely on that to get them through the election. They need to be about something else and I think the first real chance they're going to have to define it is the State of the Union.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. A lot to watch. Thank you for coming on the show as always.
Alex Kaplun: Sure.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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