Sure, Massachusetts Looks Solid Blue From the Outside

National political wisdom is quite different from what local insiders are predicting about the governor's race.

The two most prestigious prognosticators in the business, Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, both have the 2014 Massachusetts governor’s race rated as “Likely Democratic.” A third, Larry Sabato, applies a more cautious “Leans Democratic.” So does Governing Magazine. But Daily Kos Elections and Real Clear Politics go with “Likely.” Washington Post‘s The Fix ranks it as merely the 13th most likely governorship to flip party control.

To put it simply: the national political wisdom says that Charlie Baker is a marked underdog. That’s quite different from the political insiders here in the Commonwealth, who tend to see the race as a toss-up.

Similarly, Cook and Sabato rate John Tierney’s re-election in the 6th congressional district as “Lean Democratic,” and Rothenberg has it “Tilt Democratic”—while the Post‘s Election Lab puts a super-confident 94 percent chance of Democratic victory. But, some 40 percent of my in-state insiders think Republican Richard Tisei will win. And national observers don’t even have William Keating on their radar down in the 9th district, while a number of observers here think John Chapman will give him a serious challenge.

I’m usually tempted to trust the national observers over the local ones, who can tend to be swayed by self-interested overconfidence or paranoia. But in this case, I think the locals might be onto something.

One reason for that is the unusual nature of recent elections here, which might have started to look like a new normal—but isn’t necessarily.

I’m talking about turnout. Republicans are expected to do well nationally in the 2014 elections, as they did in 2010, in large part because of the different turnout for mid-year elections. Core Democratic voters—including young and minority voters—tend to be unenthused and stay home, especially when there isn’t much reason to get excited. Meanwhile, those disenchanted with the way things are going tend to be motivated to go out to vote against the party in power, which has been Democrats.

The 2010 Republican wave rode those turnout realities; but the wave missed Massachusetts, so it’s natural to suspect the same for 2014. But in 2010, Massachusetts Democrats had the extraordinary grassroots organization and appeal of Deval Patrick—plus the scare, earlier in the year, from the Scott Brown special election victory over Martha Coakley for US Senate.

Turnout among core Democrats was similarly boosted in 2008 and 2012 by Barack Obama’s name (and Elizabeth Warren’s, in the latter case) at the top of the ballot. In 2006 it was Patrick again—plus, the angry enthusiasm against the party in power was directed at outgoing Republican governor Mitt Romney, and his surrogate Kerry Healey. (Voting against Romney might have helped motivate Massachusetts Democrats in 2012, too.) You can even go back to 2004, when hometown boy John Kerry was on the Presidential ticket.

So, what will happen in 2014? It’s hard for most of us to picture Coakley, or whoever the Democratic nominee is, driving turnout the way Patrick did. But perhaps that’s a misperception. Or, maybe the state really has become so automatically blue-voting that it doesn’t matter.

I would also note that quite a few Massachusetts insiders believe that Baker will lose, only because of the votes that independent candidate Jeff McCormick will drain from him. If so, that will not necessarily help Tierney or Keating in their races.