Assessing the Air War

The faster pace of campaigns really is changing politics. As the New Year dawned, almost no one in either party thought the Massachusetts Senate race would be hot. It reached the boiling point at cyberspeed; an astonishing $23 million was spent on the race by the time voters went to the polls.

Scott Brown raised an astounding $13 million between January 1 and his victory on January 19. The money came in so fast he couldn’t spend it all and wound up with a $4 million surplus. While Mr. Brown did outspend Democrat Martha Coakley by $8.7 million to $5.1 million in the homestretch, the discrepancy was reduced by various Democratic groups who spent $6.1 million on ads and get-out-the-vote efforts. By contrast, seven GOP and conservative groups chipped in $2.7 million on behalf of Mr. Brown. Overall, the campaign’s final days saw spending between the two camps turn out roughly equal.

But the quality of the messages clearly mattered. Panicked liberals put out so many negative ads against Mr. Brown that several backfired. A direct mail piece from the state Democratic Party announced that “1,736 Women Were Raped in Massachusetts in 2008; Scott Brown Wants Hospitals To Turn Them All Away.” Michael Scherer of Time Magazine said the move was a “roll towards [the] gutter,” though the ad was echoed by the Coakley campaign itself, which ran an ad saying Mr. Brown would “deny rape victims care.”

There were tough Republican ads too, including one that refused to credit Ms. Coakley’s explanation that her comment in the debate that “we have to get taxes up” referred to growing revenues from an improving economy rather than higher taxes. In general, however, the anti-Coakley ads were hard-hitting but concentrated on the issues.

Surprisingly, few of the ads that sought to help Mr. Brown focused on health care, which about half of voters told pollsters was their No. 1 issue. Instead, most ads focused on overall economic themes. An exception was funded by Independent Women’s Voice, which ran a radio ad and placed thousands of live and recorded phone calls to voters in order to critique the Obama health care plan. Two Massachusetts physicians, Lorraine Schratz and Barbara Rockett, detailed specific concerns with ObamaCare in messages aimed at independent and GOP women. Mr. Brown wound up winning 47% of women voters in the state, equal to the number of women who indicated they opposed the health care bill before Congress.

 – John Fund