Congressional Corner With Tim Vercellotti | WAMC

Congressional Corner With Tim Vercellotti

Jun 19, 2020

The chair of the House Ways and Means Committee faces a primary challenge from Holyoke.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Tim Vercellotti of the Western New England University poll and professor of political science, wraps up his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

Alan Chartock: Tim Vercellotti is the director of the Western New England University poll, professor of political science and a terrific analyst of contemporary politics. I live in the first district of Massachusetts, Richie Neal is my congressman. Richie Neal has an opponent, a guy named Morse from the other end of the district. So what does the Neal/Morse primary for the Massachusetts first house seat look like?

Tim Vercellotti: Well, what it currently looks like is very different from what we all imagined it would look like. Instead of the candidates being out in the community, holding public events going to parades over Memorial Day weekend, they're conducting their campaigns largely online because of the coronavirus pandemic. Having said that, what we have here is a longstanding member of Congress who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard Neal, and you've got the mayor of Holyoke, Alex Morse who this would only be the second public office he's held. He's been there for several terms. Morse faces the challenge of building name recognition and raising money. At the end of the most recent reporting period, which ended in March, he had $440,000 cash on hand. Richard Neal had $4.5 million. So Morse is at a distinct disadvantage in terms of fundraising, and he's got to get publicity any way he can. He has been outspoken on the calls for police reform, and participated in a march in Holyoke, in memory of George Floyd, and Morse in doing that also criticized Richard Neal for not getting behind a house resolution that was condemning police brutality. This was a resolution put forward by on Ayanna Pressley from the 8th district here in Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar from Minnesota. Neal responded very quickly, this all blew up last week, that he is a supporter of that resolution. He was letting the sponsors announce who the supporters were, Morse was being premature. But we've got this sort of back and forth that suggests that Neal is taking this race very seriously. He knows what can happen to entrenched incumbents, he only has to look to his former colleague Joe [sic – Mike] Capuano who was upset by Ayanna Pressley in a primary in 2018, and he doesn't want that to happen in his case. So Neal is really running a rapid response kind of campaign. Any criticism coming from Morse gets a very quick response from Neal. Neal has been very present in terms of giving media interviews and staying in the public eye in a way that we really haven't seen in previous recent election cycles.

Okay, let's talk a little bit about Elizabeth Warren. You know, she is one of the people who has been discussed for a vice presidential seat. If she leaves, a lot of people are worried that the Republican governor will appoint a Republican senator and stave off the Democratic takeover of the Senate. It won’t last forever. There's got to be a special election. But one would imagine that there could be some discussions between the Republican governor and the Democrats in Massachusetts. What do you make of it?

This is perhaps one of the most enjoyable parlor games going on in politics right now. What would happen should Elizabeth Warren get on the ticket as Joe Biden's running mate? So the current law is that the governor would appoint a replacement and there is no requirement that the replacement be of the same party. That is a requirement in some states. And then within 145 to 160 days of the resignation announcement, there has to be a special election. Warren’s term runs until the end of 2024. So a couple of possibilities here. If Biden were to make an announcement in the next few days, and Warren were to resign her senate seat before June 23, the seat would be on the ballot in the November 3 election, and that could have all sorts of cascading consequences. We might see Joe Kennedy file for that seat instead. The idea that Elizabeth Warren would resign from the Senate though, is pretty, pretty outlandish. That's a big gamble to take, and so that seems unlikely. Another possibility, the Massachusetts legislature could pass a law that requires the governor to do what governors in several other states have to do, name someone of the same party to serve. There are some media reports that such a piece of legislation has been drafted and would be ready to go. If that were the case, there is also, and this really gets into the tall grass, the legal distinction between a resignation announcement and an actual vacancy, and which of those would start the clock to the special election. And there is some speculation that Elizabeth Warren could announce a resignation, but it would not take effect until after the November election. And then it would be more clear whether the Democrats need the seat in the Senate to take over a majority. Lots of maneuvering. It seems to me in the takeaway from press accounts is that this is all up to Joe Biden. If he does settle on Elizabeth Warren, he would be the one to make the call of when, if and when she would leave the Senate. He and President Obama both resigned their Senate seats the day after the election in 2008. I'd be very surprised if we saw anything different in this scenario, but it's fun to speculate, and a lot of that's going on.

Well, Tim, first of all, I agree with you about all of the fun of this. But now let's go to your pollster credentials and ask you this. As Governor Baker, the Republican doing, especially because of the coronavirus shut down, and how's his popularity right now?

Well, his popularity is still very, very strong. In terms of job approval, Charlie Baker tends to pull on the low 70s. The Washington Post had a piece a few weeks ago, where they got some data from national surveys run by Survey Monkey in each of the 50 states to see what the approval rating was for each governor in terms of their response to the pandemic. And while we typically see Charlie Baker at the top of such lists, he came in second, Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland had an 85% approval rating on this regard. And then two familiar names here, Governor Phil Scott of Vermont, and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, were both in second place with 82% approval of their handling of various aspects of the pandemic. So this reflects a lot of public confidence in support of Baker in terms of his handling of not just the shutdown, but the very systematic planning for reopening the state.

Governor Baker, of course. I mean, he's very popular in a state where Donald Trump is not popular at all. Now, they're both Republicans. How has Baker been playing the Trump card?

He's had to be very smart about it. He takes his stand when he can in terms of opposing the president, but mindful that there will be times, as there always are, when a governor needs help from the White House. So he picks his battles. And he's mindful of his strong public support in the state and he doesn't want to see anything happened to that. And so he's very choosy about when he speaks out against the president, as he has recently in terms of statements the president has made about the public protests. But he's not a risk taker. Governor Baker is very cautious about these things.

It's always wonderful to talk to our friend Tim Vercellotti. He is the director of the Western New England University poll, professor of political science, and a guy who is always interesting. Thanks for being with us, Tim.

It was my pleasure. Thank you.