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Bipartisanship a focus of 2008 elections

Date: 11/10/2008

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Congressman Richard Neal said at a press conference on Wednesday that politics is all about trends and the nation saw evidence of that at this year's election.

"It was a pretty remarkable day," he said while speaking in the foyer of the new Federal Courthouse on State Street.

Holding copies of national election results, Neal assessed how and if the power has shifted in Congress. While the filibuster-proof number of 60 Democrats in the Senate was not reached, he noted the Democratic Party had won in states that had been traditionally considered Republican and had become a "national" party once more.

Dominance by Democrats was not on Neal's mind, though, as he spoke extensively about bipartisan efforts to solve the country's problems, which he described as "critical." He said that any discussion about changes to federal taxes must include support and input from Republicans to be successful.

He said it is important the new presidential administration and Congress "get off the ground running" addressing issues, such as passing the national healthcare plan for children that had been vetoed by President George W. Bush.

He noted that Sen. Barack Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson to win by over 50 percent and that his victory in states such as Iowa -- an overwhelming white state showed his support crossed ethnic lines.

Obama did better with white voters than either Bill Clinton or John Kerry, he added.

Neal thought the Internet played an important role in the campaign as voters were fact-checking what candidates said, especially claims about Obama that were made by the McCain-Palin ticket. He thought the negative campaign run by the Republicans was muted by the tremendous amount of money spent on advertising by the Obama camp -- a four to one ratio -- coupled with fact-checking Web sites.

He said that Gov. Sarah Palin proved to be "very significant" to the Republican base but that this election showed that contests for president could not be won by just the support of the base. He added the Democrats registered three million more voters in the party, while the Republicans lost 1.5 million registered voters.

He said Palin's future remains to be seen, but he predicted she will be sought as an "after dinner speaker."

This reporter's evaluation of local races

Statewide, Republican Jeff Beatty ran a busy grassroots effort to unseat Sen. John Kerry.

Kerry prevailed in the election, although the attention his Democratic primary opponent Ed O'Reilly received indicated that Kerry is not criticism-proof.

An indication of Kerry's standing was seen at a fundraiser he conducted at the Red Rose restaurant in Springfield earlier this year that didn't draw the usual group of elected officials to pay their obligatory tribute. Normally every mayor in the area would attend such an event for Kerry who seldom visits Western Massachusetts. That was not the case.

Beatty was perhaps the best Republican candidate the party has fielded for the Senate since the late multi-millionaire inventor Ray Shame back in the 1980s. His background in the military, CIA and business gave him a lot to talk about.

Ultimately, though, Kerry's organization, campaign coffers and incumbency overwhelmed Beatty. One aspect of that race that may have made a difference was the lack of statewide debates between the two men. Beatty told me it was the jobs of the press and non-profit groups to arrange debates and not his responsibility, which might have been a mistake.

In local races, it wasn't surprising that Brian Hoose, a man who despite his activity in Democratic Party politics for years, didn't unseat incumbent Don Humason in Westfield as state representative. Westfield has long been a Republican stronghold going back to the days of Steve Pierce and voters are loathe to replace state reps as long as they are personable and represent their districts.

Humason is one of the friendliest elected officials I've encountered and he literally wears a heart on his sleeve -- his ever-present "I love Westfield" button.

I hope that Hoose stays active in politics though.

Nathan Bech, the West Springfield businessman and Army veteran, started his campaign for Congress against long-time incumbent John Olver in the summer and was aggressive in his near daily e-mails to the press pointing out the differences between his points of view and Olver's.

Olver didn't enter the fray until September, essentially ignoring Bech's existence until he really had to acknowledge it.

Olver didn't communicate too much with the press, especially after he suggested that Western Massachusetts would best be served by having one Congressional District -- eliminating Congressman Richard Neal's seat.

Olver's campaign efforts were marked by television ads -- one of which he recycled from the last election -- and by radio ads that attacked John McCain rather than Bech.

The stream of e-mails from Bech dramatically diminished to this writer in October, just when conventional wisdom notes they should have increased.

It's interesting to note that Sen. John McCain was widely criticized for being too old at age 72 for the presidency, while no one noted Olver is the same age nor were there questions of his competency.

It's probably safe to say there will be no change in that seat until Olver decides to retire.

In the race to replace out-going State Rep. Mary Rogeness, there was a battle between Longmeadow Select Board members William Scibelli and Brian Ashe. The conventional wisdom was that Scibelli had the edge. He is Republican, running for a position that has traditionally been Republican. He clearly out-spent Ashe and because he is a self-employed attorney, he had more time to campaign.

Ashe's victory was truly an upset, especially considering he had failed to show up for a televised debate with Scibelli just days before the election. One might wonder if it was Scibelli's record on the Select Board or if the Democratic wave felt in many elections across the country propelled Ashe over the finish line.

Other state legislative races locally were lackluster. State Rep. Ben Swan had dispatched his two opponents during the primary. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera once again handily put down George Vazquez, whose campaign this time was marred by a conviction for assault.

In many other races, state reps and senators didn't face opposition, making this observer wonder if people are satisfied with the performances of local officials or if the hurdles presented by incumbency are too overwhelming.