As you know, I am in Massachusetts right now, helping Sean Bielat's Congressional race. I miss my family and friends in the Sunshine State, but this has been an incredible experience so far. One of the more interesting aspects for me has been observing the activities of the Massachusetts Republicans, and some very promising developments in conservative grassroots activism around the southeastern part of the state.
The MassGOP, who I've characterized as "merry pranksters" for stunts like this, are very skilled at making a big impact with limited resources. In Florida, Republicans are spoiled with a organized state party structure with active Republican Executive Committees in every county, as well as complete control of the Cabinet, a veto-proof majority in both houses of the state legislature, and most of Florida's Congressional delegation. Still, there is a feisty and nimble attitude I see displayed by the MassGOP, a constant quest to find new ways to take jabs at the Democrats, that I think larger state parties could learn from.
I have also observed a wonderful trend of excellent Republican candidates running for office in Massachusetts, who exhibit the strong spirit and commitment to fiscal responsibility that was the heart of the 2010 Republican renaissance. Sean Bielat ran for the first time in 2010, against a long time incumbent in a highly gerrymandered district, and still managed to put up a fight against Barney Frank, so much so that Frank was unwilling to try his luck against Sean again in the newly redistricted Fourth District. I've also met several of the Republican state legislators who were elected in 2010; Representatives Angelo D'Emilia (Bridgewater) and Keiko Orrall (Lakeville) were especially impressive.
One thing I think it's important to know is that Massachusetts is not actually a blue state. Yes, really! It's true that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, but the majority of voters in Massachusetts are independent, not registered with either party (commonly referred to as "unenrolled" here). These unenrolled voters often have conservative or moderate views on many issues, and the Republican message can be appealing to them. Remember, Scott Brown won statewide just two years ago. Voters in Massachusetts have voted for Republicans before, and the world didn't end, and they are willing to do so again this year, perhaps more than any year in recent history.
Sean Bielat isn't the only great Republican Congressional candidate in this area. Jon Golnik, Jeff Semon, and Chris Sheldon are also worth checking out. (Note: I have met Semon and Sheldon, and they have my endorsement. I do not officially endorse candidates unless I have met them in person, but Golnik is an impressive candidate and I like what I'm hearing from him.) All three are running against Democratic incumbents.
Earlier this week, I participated in a blogger conference call with Golnik, Semon, and Sheldon. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) announced recently that it was committing at least $2.2 million in ad buys in Massachusetts, significantly more than they had ever contemplated spending in this state before. By making such a large investment, the NRCC clearly sees multiple Congressional districts as in play for the Republicans this year, and southeastern Massachusetts is the most conservative part of the state. We started the call with introductions from each candidate, and then they took questions. Here are my notes from the call:
JON GOLNIK: He is running against Niki Tsongas in MA-3 for the second time. Golnik earned just over 40% in 2010, despite being outspent by over $2.5 million. He's running a “very data-driven” campaign, focusing on unenrolled supervoters, Rs and soft Ds (socially conservative, second amendment supporters, etc.). He's glad to be on the ballot with Senator Scott Brown - "If he does well, we do well" - specifically mentioned how the Brown will be working very hard to turn out voters in this area, which helps him too. Regarding Tsongas, he mentions how she was a big supporter of the stimulus and ObamaCare, and is "calling for a 21st century New Deal” but not saying how she’ll pay for it.
JEFF SEMON: He's running against Ed Markey in MA-5. Markey was elected in 1976, “the year I was born,” and has barely lived in district since then. Markey is a "career politician," "hasn’t spent one minute in the private sector or real world," supports cap and trade and other job killing legislation. Semon calls this election "critical" after the Supreme Court verdict on ObamaCare and says his campaign strategy is "focusing on the economy, like all Republicans are."
CHRIS SHELDON: He's running against Bill Keating in MA-9, Massachusetts' most conservative district. The MassGOP chair calls MA-9 a “most winnable district.” Scott Brown has 2 of his 9 regional offices in MA-9, and Sheldon has his office is a different part of the district, so MA-9 is well covered. Sheldon says Keating “represents everything people hate about politicians:” he has zero private sector experience, the worst kind of career politician.
First question was about ObamaCare and specifically the preexisting condition issue, which polls show many people are sympathetic about:
GOLNIK: Saying we want to repeal ObamaCare does not mean we want to deny people with preexisting conditions health care. Mentioned state-based high risk pools as a better solution. Says they work well in Massachusetts.
SEMON: Pre-existing condition issue is a Democratic talking point and red herring. HIPAA and COBRA addressed many of the people in this situation, allowing them to keep their same coverage if they changed or lost their jobs. Nationally, we have Medicaid for those that are completely uninsured. “We need to separate this idea of health insurance and health care, they’re not the same.” Just because someone has health insurance doesn’t mean they’ll get good care. The effect of ObamaCare is to “dilute the effectiveness of health insurance,” "making the insurance worth less” by adding people to pool without making any underlying changes. Best solutions are competition and price transparency. Example: LASIK eye surgery. Price has gone down, availability and quality has gone up.
SHELDON: Voices support for what Golnik and Semon said. Says we should also move to individual based insurance and away from employer based programs, which remove the patient away from being a customer aware of the cost of their health care. Most people have no idea what their insurance premiums cost. Employees see that they are paying more and more for less and less coverage. Moving away from tying insurance coverage to a specific job will not only bring more transparency and reduce costs, but will also ameliorate the preexisting condition issue. If people obtain insurance on their own instead of being tied to job, they won’t have to switch policies when they switch jobs, thereby allowing them to avoid the gaps in coverage that can hurt people with pre-existing conditions.
Next question asked their opinion on term limits:
SEMON: favors term limits, pledges to serve only four terms. Cites crony capitalism and increased likelihood of corruption as problems with career politicians. Mentions how long-time incumbents like Ed Markey donate heavily to state legislative representatives in Massachusetts, who become dependent on the money and are afraid to not support them.
GOLNIK: Says he has a 10 and a 13 year old and doesn't want to move his family to D.C. Loves being a husband and father and will be coming home as much as possible to be with family. Not in favor of a constitutional amendment for term limits but thinks campaign finance reform is the right way to address the issue. Incumbents have a powerful reelection advantage that is driven largely by money. Everyone says they support term limits when they run but breaks their promises, so voters are rightfully cynical. Says right now he thinks about three terms makes sense for him, and although he is not formally making a pledge, says he sincerely doesn’t want to make a career out of being a Congressman.
SHELDON: He is a "100% believer" in term limits, and would sign a bill or support a constitutional amendment today if given the chance. However, he doesn’t believe in unilateral term limits. Current system puts leadership, committees in hands of senior members, and Sheldon believes he would be handicapping himself politically and his ability to represent his constituents if he agreed to term limits on his own.
SEMON: He was very knowledgeable about this story, and was unequivocal in calling these tactics criminal: asking why do we have to ask the people who are supposed to enforce the law, to actually enforce the law? "It’s a shame you even have to ask the question."
SHELDON: Said any efforts to intimidate the press, whether it's targeting mainstream media or bloggers, is “outrageous.” Asked how could any elected official not want to uphold freedom of the press? “It’s the craziest thing in the world” that opposition to SWAT-ting even has to be voiced.
GOLNIK: Echoed what Semon and Sheldon said, and stated that if he were in Congress, he would definitely sign the letter.
Next question asked how the candidates are reaching out to independents and Democrats, a necessary part of winning in Massachusetts:
GOLNIK: 55% of his district is unenrolled and he knows he can’t win without them. He is keeping his messaging focused on jobs. Unemployment rates are high, ranging from 9-14% in different areas of district. On a personal note, he worked his way through school and his parents lost their house to foreclosure when he was growing up, so he understands what people are experiencing right now. We really need to get the private sector hiring, but they have no confidence in tax/regulatory predictability. Cites as an example a 2.3% medical device tax that Tsongas voted for. People are frustrated, seeing so much stimulus money spent, with only just a few jobs “saved or created,” and what does that even mean? His experience with the voters in his district shows that the top three issues are “jobs, jobs, and jobs” and that is how he is reaching out to people.
SHELDON: Says there are two main parts to his strategy. First, he is focusing on small and medium sized businesses, such as the many medical device companies in MA, including 60+ in his area. He mentioned several ideas that would help the 15,000 small/medium businesses in his district, such as reducing corporate taxes, maybe even eliminating them for a short time for new businesses. Second, being around so many Democrats in Massachusetts for so long has been very educational for him. He realizes that not all their ideas are terrible, some are worth discussing. Having a receptive attitude and at least being willing to listen and not immediately dismiss everything the Democrats say is helpful for working across aisle, and actually getting things done. Sheldon cites the unusually high number of bills passed by Brown as freshman Senator as a great example of this attitude. Sheldon also notes that independent voters tend to think that sometimes Republicans have good ideas, and sometimes Democrats do, so this attitude helps get their votes.
SEMON: This is no longer their father/grandfather’s Democrat party. The policies and principles of the modern day Democratic party are not what they want. All they seem to do is blame, blame, blame Republicans, but the traditional Democrats, as well as voters overall, want actual solutions, not just more and more of this finger pointing. Semon mentions a YouTube video he posted recently with Markey shrilly insulting Republicans over and over. Says his basic message is asking, “Are you better off than you were 36 years ago?” (when Markey was first elected), considering how the cost of living up, it's harder to save for retirement and our children’s education, etc. Semon says the Democratic party is “actively trying to make things harder” for people, and candidates need to be ready with practical logical arguments why Republican ideas and values are better. Lower taxes are better for economic growth, paying off debt is better than running it up.
At this point we had just a few minutes left for some individual follow up questions:
SEMON: He was asked where he would cut fed spending, and answered, “a better question is where wouldn’t I cut federal spending.” Even defense has pork barrel projects and waste. We should trust generals on what programs are best for maintaining and improving combat capability and what technology is becoming outdated. “Every aspect” of the budget needs to be examined.
SHELDON: Concluded with some remarks about how Massachusetts is trending more conservative. Even people who have been "strong, strong Democrats" are realizing that Obama’s policies have failed. College students who voted for him as teenagers are now disappointed, struggling with paying back student loans, facing rampant unemployment/underemployment, worried about the impact of the national debt on their futures. Sheldon is hoping that the election will be “transformative” and “bring people to the conservative side” who weren’t willing to consider it before. Reiterates his belief that Republicans really do have better ideas and solutions for the American people.
So, here's the deal: in this modern campaign era, we are not limited to supporting just the candidates in our own neighborhoods, and Republicans need to realize that the ever-stagnant economy and Obama's continual failed leadership means many more districts are up for grabs than were in 2008.
We don't have to just settle for trying to elect conservatives from red states like Texas. We can play on the Democrats' turf (or at least what they think is theirs!), and we can win.
Here are four excellent Republican candidates running for Congress in Massachusetts:
Will you consider donating $20.12 or more to each of them, and help all of us turn Massachusetts from blue to red?
Any amount you can contribute helps. It costs about fifty cents to print and mail a simple postcard mailpiece, and many homes have two or three voters. So even a $5.00 donation means that candidate can reach ten or twenty more voters. Wonderful!
Today is the last day of the reporting period, so please make your donation by midnight ET tonight.
More links about these great candidates:
Blog post by Peter Ingemi, aka "DaTechGuy," on the same conference call I was on with Golnik, Semon, and Sheldon.
My video interview with Chris Sheldon last week (bonus points for my fellow UF alumni - Chris is a Gator!):