Massachusetts conservative

By Stephen W. Stromberg
Published August 2, 2004 9:17PM (EDT)

Massachusetts has a reputation for being a bastion of elitist, Harvard Yard liberalism with rhetoric as overstuffed as Ivy-League armchairs. Indeed, branding presidential hopefuls from the Bay State "Massachusetts liberals" has been a Republican pastime since Lee Atwater tore Michael Dukakis down. It worked in 1988, and the late Atwater's biggest fan, Karl Rove, is using the same line against John Kerry a decade and a half later.

But Massachusetts does not live up to its reputation, the Economist reports in its latest issue: "The past four governors have all been Republican; the current one is a Mormon. Since 1991, state government has been split: Democrats control the legislature and provide the speaker, but he is a conservative who got his job thanks to Republican support against a majority of his own party."

"In contrast to the rest of the country, ticket-splitting is common in Massachusetts. So is bucking the party line. This year, some Republicans opposed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; some Democrats supported it (it passed). Half of all voters are registered independents. And thanks to a referendum on property taxes in 1980, state and local taxation is well below the national average. (Massachusetts, which used to be second in terms of state and local taxes as a percentage of income, has now dropped to 36th). Mr Kerry does not represent a high-tax, one-party state." Will reality make the Bush campaign back off on the Massachusetts thing? Probably not, but what might work are indications that the angle isn't working like it did in '88. Indeed, John Kerry's numbers on the war on terror are almost even with President Bush's in the latest Gallup Poll, demonstrating that the Brie-eating, wine-sipping stereotype isn't sticking to the Massachusetts senator.

Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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