“A referendum on marriage.” That’s how Republican Scott Brown described his victory in the recent special election for a state senate seat in Massachusetts. Brown, a state legislator, U.S. Army Reserve major, and one-time Tufts University basketball player, won the seat vacated by Democratic State Sen. Cheryl Jacques, who left to become national head of the Human Rights Campaign. Brown’s defeat of Democrat Angus McQuilken, Jacques top aide, was stunning because it came in a district that is only 17% Republican and it was accomplished on the same day, March 2, that favorite son John Kerry was sweeping the state’s presidential primary. McQuilken’s campaign featured recorded phone endorsements from both Kerry and Sen. Ted Kennedy. The Democrat had strong financial backing from gay groups and the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers. To be sure, Brown is not an all-out social issues conservative. Like Gov. Mitt Romney (R.-Mass.), he describes himself as “a fiscal conservative and social moderate” and “pro-choice with exceptions” on abortion. But because McQuilken backed abortion on demand and called for full implementation of the state Supreme Court ruling on gay marriages, Brown ended up decidedly to the right of his opponent in these areas and won enthusiastic backing of social-issues activists. “I had a neighbor who came up to me and said in the 15 years I had been a selectman and state representative, she had never voted for me,” Brown told HUMAN EVENTS. “But this time she would vote for me because of my stand on marriage.” Brown’s strong opposition to new or higher taxes also secured him support from state anti-tax groups and the National Federation of Independent Business. Recalling how liberal Republican Governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci “did nothing for me” in any of his previous campaigns, Brown noted that Romney raised money and campaigned at bus stops with him. The regular legislative elections in Massachusetts this year are particularly critical because the legislature will decide whether issues such as tax rollbacks and gay marriage will go to voters as initiatives in 2006. Democrats now hold a 40-to-7-seat edge over Republicans in the senate and a 137-to-23-seat advantage in the House. With Romney’s encouragement, however, more than 135 Republicans have already filed to compete for seats in both chambers this year.
Many are seeing this special-election upset in Massachusetts as the beginning of a larger referendum on marriage.