I will be spending Election Night at WGBH radio, looking for signals and surprises as the town-by-town vote comes in. Here's what to expect in the US Senate race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren.
There are a handful of places where Martha Coakley won by more than 2-1 even as she lost to Brown in the 2010 special election. They include Boston, Newton, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, and, way out in the west, Pittsfield. If Warren doesn't double Brown's votes in these towns, and doesn't repeat Coakley's sweep of small towns in the liberal western end of the state, she could be in trouble.
The big question in Boston is turnout. In 2010, there were 153,270 votes cast in the special election, which equaled 66% of the turnout in the 2008 presidential race (232,642). Statewide, turnout in the special election was 74% that of the last presidential election, so Boston needs a rebound in participation to achieve its potential influence on the race. And that may depend on whether enthusiasm for Barack Obama brings out potential Warren voters.
Then there are the cities where Obama won by more than 2-to-1 in 2008 but where Coakley won by smaller margins. They include Worcester (where Obama got 68% and Coakley only 52%), Springfield, New Bedford, Brockton, Fall River, and Lynn. Brown's relatively strong showings in these cities — mostly outside of the Boston media orbit and not doing as well economically as the capital city — was critical to his victory. If Warren gets two-thirds of the vote in these places, she's on her way to a solid win; if she struggles to win any of them, Brown becomes the favorite.
Brown's areas of strength are more diffuse geographically. (See map above, and see other election maps at CommonWealth magazine.) In 2010, he overwhelmingly won suburbs and small towns across most of the state, but particularly in central Massachusetts (Worcester County), the South Shore (Plymouth County), and Boston exurbs to the north and southwest (not in Metro West). He won by more than 2-1 in such towns as (in descending order of population) Walpole, Dracut, North Attleborough, Tewksbury, Wilmington, Bridgewater, Middleborough, Pembroke, Norton, and Hanover.
Finally, there are a small number of cities and towns that are tougher to predict, since they have gone for both Democrats and Republicans in recent statewide races. The nice thing about them is that you don't have to know the point spread to interpret them on election night. In their cases, a win is a win.
Below are some of the larger communities in that category. The graphs show each town's Democratic share of the vote in elections for major offices over the past decade, comparing them the the statewide Democratic share in the same elections. (I'm showing the Democratic vote because it's been less subject to fluctuation, and because Brown needs voters who have supported independents like Christy Mihos and Tim Cahill more than Warren does.) In each case, the town's Democratic percentage has been both above and below average at different points over the decade.
2008: 39,033 votes, 58% Obama (D)
January 2010: 29,262 votes, 53% Brown (R)
November 2010: 31,020 votes, 41% Patrick (D)
Quincy voted strongly for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, but its affection for third-party candidates has made it less reliably Democratic in recent years. In the 2006 governor's race, independent Christy Mihos got 8.5% and Green Party candidate Grace Ross got 2.4% here, both above their state averages. And in 2010, independent (and Quincy resident) Tim Cahill got 24.6%, pushing incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick down to a winning plurality of only 40.7%. Scott Brown is counting on a large percentage of those Cahill voters to keep Quincy in his column.
2008: 31,472 votes, 65% Obama (D)
January 2010: 20,397 votes, 52% Brown (R)
November 2010: 22,078 votes, 49% Patrick (D)
Lowell tracks pretty closely with statewide results in major races. One exception was in the presidential election of 2008, when Barack Obama ran 3.4 points above his state average here. A relatively high turnout — 61% of eligible voters, which is low for Massachusetts but high for Lowell — seems to have given Obama an extra boost. Elizabeth Warren must be hoping that Obama voters come back this year to vote a straight Democratic ticket.
2008: 26,618 votes, 67% Obama (D)
January 2010: 19,638 votes, 53% Coakley (D)
November 2010: 19,960 votes, 53% Patrick (D)
Framingham is one of the western suburbs, socially liberal but fiscally moderate, that put Mitt Romney in the governor's office in 2002, giving him 51% of its vote. No one expects Romney to carry the state against Obama, but residual support here could give him a bigger share of the vote than John McCain got in 2008. That could help Brown, who's running as the moderate Republican that Mitt was in Massachusetts. Note that the similarity of the Framingham results for the January and November elections of 2010; the town's high turnout for the special US Senate election suggests a lot of interest this year's race.
2008: 24,052 votes, 63% Obama (D)
January 2010: 17,226 votes, 49.6% Brown (R)
November 2010: 17,295 votes, 50% Patrick (D)
Much like Framingham, the home of business school Bentley University was favorably disposed toward Romney when he ran for governor of Massachusetts and gave him 51% of its vote. In the 2010 US Senate election, this was one of the most closely divided communities in the state, with Brown besting Coakley by only 23 votes (8,546 to 8,543, with 157 votes going to the Libertarian candidate).
2008: 23,040 votes, 61% Obama (D)
January 2010: 15,716 votes, 53% Brown (R)
November 2010: 16,127 votes, 42% Patrick (D)
Far to the west of Metro Boston, the city of Chicopee is the largest community in the state where manufacturing is still the largest employment sector. Romney got only 45% here when he ran for governor, but barn-jacketed Brown did considerably better in 2010, getting 53%. That fall, this was one of the few communities (along with Quincy) where Patrick ran well behind Coakley's share of the vote. That was because independent Cahill got a substantial 16% (which, in contrast to Quincy, can't be attributed to his living here). The big decline in support for Patrick may have Brown hoping that this working-class city has a similar reaction to "Professor" Warren.
2008: 22,217 votes, 59% Obama (D)
January 2010: 15,739 votes, 57% Brown (R)
November 2010: 16,541 votes, 44% Patrick (D)
Bristol County was especially good to Brown in 2010, giving him some of his biggest gains over previous Republican candidates, including Romney. It probably helped that Brown lives in the town of Wrentham, just to the north in Norfolk County, while Coakley was seen as part of Beacon Hill culture. It almost certainly helped that Bristol County and the South Coast was hit especially hard by the Great Recession, making voters there receptive to a "change" candidate. The city of Taunton, which lies nearer to economically struggling Providence than to more prosperous Boston, gave Brown a 15-point win in 2010 — a big change from the 6-point loss suffered by Romney in 2002. Warren doesn't necessarily have to win here, especially if she can improve upon Coakley's showing in Boston's more prosperous and well-educated exurbs, but another double-digit loss in Taunton would be hard to recover from.
Photos from candidate websites.