Autopsy of an Upset

 

The Barnstable Republican Town Committee must be pulling out their collective hair this weekend wondering why they didn't run a candidate in the 2nd Barnstable district this year.

After the upset outcome in the Democratic primary for State Representative on Thursday, this would have been the first time in 14 years that a Republican had a real shot at capturing the seat held by Rep. Demetius Atsalis. 

The 2nd Barnstble distirict comprised mostly of precincts in the Town of Barnstable and alternately Yarmouth, has been represented by a Democrat for more than 20 years.   Assuming that a Democratic majority determined the outcome of the race would be incorrect.  It has always been the Independents who determined the outcome of this election.

Atsalis, a Democrat, has appealed to the Independent voters in the district ever since he was elected in 1998.  Looking at the political spectrum, Demetrius would be somewhere in the middle, with a Republican opponent running to his right in the general election in November.  The Democrats have repeatedly nominated him to run against a litany of Republicans. Independents would gravitate to the more moderate Atlsalis, adding to his Democratic votes to earn him a majority.

For 6 previous elections this is what played out in the 2nd Barnstble district. But this September, most Democrats stayed home, complacent that Atsalis would carry the banner again this year.

However, this year Atslalis was challenged for the seat by a more liberal candidate. Brian Mannal's appeal to left wing of the party may have accounted for his suprise victory in Thursday's Primary.  But that would be a miscalculation. Looking at the party affiliation of those who voted in the primary, Mannal's tally was heavily skewed towards independents who took a Democratic ballot to vote in this race. 

Did these independents vote FOR the left leaning Mannal or did they vote AGAINST the right leaning Atsalis?

The independents who voted on Thurday were of the Republican variety. They would have pulled a Republican primary ballot had there been a race between Republican candidates to run against the incumbent Democrat.

But there was no Republican primary. In fact there is no Republican candidate at all.  Their only chance to defeat a Democratic incumbent this year was to vote against him in his own primary race, even it meant voting for a more liberal candidate. Evidence the write-in campaign organized by a registered Republican to get Independent voters to vote for Mannal in the Osterville precinct.

Together with the more liberal Democrats who voted, the Independents put Mannal over the top. Mannal with no opponent, automatically gets to serve the district for the next 2 years. So both parties get what they wanted, for now.  Democrats get a liberal. Republicans get to run against him in two years, with the anticipation that independents will swing back to a vote for a Republican then.

That was the beauty of an Atsalis candidacy for 7 terms. The liberals got a Democrat in the House. The Independents got a moderate.  A Faustian bargian, but one that benefited the district greatly. Atsalis was able to bring alot of state aid to the district becuase he stradled the chasm between liberal and conservative on Beacon Hill.  In other words, he brought home the bacon because he could make a deal with the leadership unemcumbered by a label.  He was in the sweet spot; not a liberal Democrat nor a conservative Republican.

We'll see if the funding that the district has come to rely on, will continue to flow into the district. Mannal may play well with the ideologues in the party who prefer his stand on social issues.  But the moderate Democrats who care more about winning elections, as well as the Independents who care more about getting some of their tax dollars back, may go shopping for another candidate in two years.

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