Bill Weld Unchained: An Independent Run?

There is plenty of focus on Scott Brown as the prospective Republican candidate in the special election to succeed John Kerry that is coming down the pike. I see that possibility as more than likely, with Brown, rightly or wrongly, seeing opportunity against the current crop of potential Democratic candidates. But Bill Weld has come back to Massachusetts and there has been some speculation about his return to the political battlefield, with talk centering around a candidacy for U.S. Senate in the event Scott Brown takes a pass.

Weld has said that he would be supportive of a Scott Brown candidacy in the special, knocking down any possible thought of a primary fight between the two. But what would the best route to victory be for Weld should Brown take a pass? I submit that Weld’s best path to victory in any campaign for the Senate seat lies not as a Republican, but as an independent.

I have not been a fan of independent candidacies for all of the obvious reasons. In most cases candidates need the warm embrace of party apparatus to help with field work, finance, and logistics. Bill Weld is one of the few candidates that could successfully pull it off. And these days the State Republican Party of Massachusetts delivers none of the above, but brings plenty of dysfunction and baggage.

Scott Brown lost his last race despite maintaining a very respectable degree of popularity. There are many reasons why he lost, but a key, in my opinion, was his affiliation with the national Republican Party. Without rehashing the election I think it is fair to say that the national Republican brand was an albatross around Scott Brown’s neck. If he runs again the albatross will not go away, but will be placed very carefully around his neck again. If Weld were to be the candidate he would have the same problem in spite of his well known differences with the national Party. So what could Weld do to get around that albatross?

He could utilize the Angus King independent model, and look to accentuate his past differences with national Republicans as a sign that he is truly independent. His campaign could even float the idea that he might caucus with the Democrats, but like King refuse to say with finality until the election was over. In a race with Ed Markey he could play up his fight with Jesse Helms and say that they could tell me where to sit, but not where to stand. (Sorry, I could not help it). The national Republican Party fight with Governor Chris Christie is strong evidence that they are becoming a regional party, with a one trick arsenal. Northeastern Republicans, much like old line Democrats in the South, are looking at being wiped out totally, unless they take strong steps to renounce the brand. Southern Democrats, like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, all fled the Democratic Party when they could no longer sustain the differences they had with the national Party on civil rights. That “Southern Strategy” was effectively deployed by President Nixon, and had some pundits predicting a “permanent Republican majority”. It is now a straight jacket for Republicans, and political poison for northeastern Republicans. Bill Weld is a brilliant man who understands the difficulties involved for a Republican in Massachusetts. As an independent he could stand, as did Angus King, for a “pox on both of their houses” approach, calling for fiscal reforms a la Simpson-Bowles, taking strong socially progressive positions, and becoming a strong advocate for “progress, not gridlock”, in Washington. For people looking for something beyond cookie cutter Weld might prove to be an attractive option. As a Democrat I think that Republican Scott Brown will be a formidable candidate, but the template for defeating him exists, and I believe that in the final analysis Brown loses that race. What I truly fear is a Bill Weld unchained from the Republican Party, a strong candidate with appeal to many who just cannot pull the trigger for a Republican. Is Weld back in the fight? If so it may be as an Independent!

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