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Joan Vennochi

The revolution’s new rules

By Joan Vennochi
September 23, 2010

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THE REVOLUTION started in Massachusetts and it’s not over yet.

Remember? A Republican couldn’t win here, and surely couldn’t win the Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy. Republican Scott Brown proved that wrong last January, overcoming conventional wisdom and a nude centerfold, to boot.

Since then, conventional wisdom is being sliced to shreds, locally and nationally. It’s what happens when the only issue that really matters is jobs, or the lack of them.

Most of America’s unemployed aren’t as lucky as Lawrence Summers. When he got laid off as one of President Obama’s chief economic advisers, there was a comfortable job waiting for him at Harvard.

Once reliable issues, like health care and immigration reform, aren’t working for Democrats the way they used to, because voters are thinking about the challenge to their already-challenged checkbooks. Universal health care is harder to get excited about when voters worry about paying their own premiums. The “Dream Act’’ for illegal immigrants is less appealing when the American Dream is less than dreamy for average citizens and their children.

The Republican establishment is capitalizing on fears generated by economic insecurity. But it’s getting kicked around, too. Sarah Palin, dissed as a money-grubbing twit by liberals and some old-school Republicans, didn’t fade into the Alaskan sunset when she left the governor’s office. In key races across the country, primary voters chose Tea Party candidates over establishment-backed Republicans.

Christine O’Donnell, who smashed conventional wisdom by winning the GOP Senate primary in Delaware, also dared to challenge Republican strategist Karl Rove. A female politician who admits to dabbling in teenage witchcraft beat back a strategist whose major claim to fame is a previous life as George W. Bush’s “brain.’’ Sweet.

In Massachusetts, the Brown revolution continues to bewitch Bay State voters. It also emboldens its chief acolyte.

Brown is confident enough in the local political climate to remain unswayed by Lady GaGa’s support for repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy. The Bay State’s junior senator joined a GOP filibuster to prevent consideration of a bill that would repeal the policy, leaving Senate Democrats four votes shy of the 60 votes needed to break it. There goes daughter Ayla Brown’s chance to sing the national anthem at the next GaGa extravaganza.

Massachusetts primary results are a recent illustration of some old rules currently on hold, post-Brown.

Old rule: A Massachusetts Democrat must embrace health care reform, often described reverentially as “the cause’’ of Kennedy’s life.

New rule: US Representative Stephen Lynch wins 2-to-1, over a primary opponent whose major cause was Lynch’s vote against health care reform.

Old rule: A Democrat needs across-the-board labor support.

New rule, illustrated, again, by Lynch: He won big, even though a major union, the Service Employees International Union, cut him loose over his health care vote and financed his opponent.

Old rule: It’s virtually impossible to get on a statewide ballot by running a sticker, or write-in, campaign.

New rule: Attorney General Martha Coakley now has an opponent, because Republican James McKenna did just that. The former prosecutor received more than 27,000 write-in votes, giving him a chance to make Coakley relive the nightmare of running against a little-known Republican with big fans in talk radio.

Old rule: If there are questions about your role as police sergeant in a case involving a subordinate who strip searched a teenage girl, you probably can’t win a congressional primary.

New rule: You can, if your opponent is former state Treasurer Joe Malone, and there are questions about how he handled the office as subordinates stripped the state treasury of millions. State Representative Jeff Perry is proof of that. His Democratic rival, Norfolk District Attorney Bill Keating, will be making a mistake if he believes that blight on Perry’s record is enough on its own to beat him in November.

Old rule: In a four-way governor’s race, the Democrat wins.

New rule: It’s no slam-dunk. Governor Deval Patrick may eke out a victory, but Republican Charlie Baker didn’t lose yet. Baker lacks Brown’s charm, but he still taps into the anti-Democratic establishment dynamic that propelled Brown and his pickup truck to Washington.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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