The Mass. Senate race: a smart view from the ground
The problem when elections get nationalized is that everyone -- particularly those of us in Washington -- starts seeing a race’s large implications without remembering that elections are about people, including candidates themselves, and local conditions.
Lord knows that the Massachusetts Senate vote next Tuesday has large implications. That’s why President Obama will be up there on Sunday. But the race became competitive in significant part because of how Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown ran their campaigns.
In today’s Boston Globe, columnist Adrian Walker offers an excellent, balanced, ground-up view of why Coakley is in trouble. Walker states flatly that Coakley has run a “lousy campaign,” but also speaks with some empathy about the fix she’s in.
She is suddenly being savaged -- especially in the national media -- as mediocre, which she certainly is not. (That would be Scott Brown.) Popular just a few weeks ago, suddenly it’s as though no one quite knows how she got on the ballot.
She became a credible Senate candidate by being competent and methodical. She has been a good prosecutor and solid attorney general. But qualities of hers that were viewed as admirable a few months ago have morphed into liabilities.
And clearly she has had no idea how to deal with it. It was downright painful in the debate Monday night to watch her trying to assure voters that she has a personality and a sense of humor, without actually daring to say anything personal or funny.
It’s hard to remember a candidate for major office so afraid of revealing his or her personality.
Her single biggest problem is that voters don’t feel like they know enough about her. Fixing that in a weekend may not be possible.
Yet Walker also explains why Brown has made this such a seemingly close race. (I say “seemingly” because I honestly don’t know how to sort out all the polling, and I don’t know that anyone else can, either. My guess is that it is close, but who knows?) Here’s Walker’s take:
His message is resonating. Her strategy isn’t.
If nothing else, give Brown credit for having a better sense of the mood of the voters. They got tired of hearing that it was “Ted Kennedy’s seat.’’ (Best line of the campaign, by Brown: “It isn’t Ted Kennedy’s seat, it belongs to the people of Massachusetts.’’)
They got tired of hearing that they had to save an unpopular health care proposal.
They got tired, as voters always do, of inevitability. Voters hate inevitability.
So it’s down to the last weekend, Brown’s well-financed insurgency and pledges of “independence’’ against Coakley’s guest campaigners and withering attack ads.
One thing I see differently from Walker (although he’s on the ground and I’m not): The value of Obama’s visit. “We won’t know until Tuesday night whether bringing President Obama in to campaign was a good idea or a bad one,” he writes. “At first blush, though, it’s problematic. It reinforces the idea that Coakley can’t close the deal with voters by herself. And worse, it reinforces the idea that she is simply a product of a political machine.”
All that may be true. But for the reasons Walker describes so well, I think it’s impossible for Coakley to “close the deal with the voters by herself” in the few days remaining. Her best chance of winning is to focus the minds of Democratic voters on how high the stakes in the race are. Obama can do that better than anyone -- and, yes, better than she can herself.
| January 16, 2010; 3:08 PM ET
Categories: Dionne | Tags: E.J. Dionne
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