In the truncated primary that was the MA special election, typical electioneering went out the window. A three month run became a race for money and union endorsements. Right out of the gate, Coakley got the backing of Emily’s List which isn’t a surprise as she was the only female candidate (as well as being pro-choice). Their backing brought an immediate infusion of big money that immediately established her as the prohibitive favorite even before the field was set. As the field settled on four candidates the big union endorsements began to pour in. The biggest unions (IBEW, SEIU, et al) came out in force for Coakley (some of the unions split with some factions like the bricklayers breaking for Capuano). The conventional wisdom at the time was that she was the union favorite because of her work as AG enforcing wage laws. That’s a bunch of shit. The reason the largest unions came out right away for Coakley was because she was seen as the inevitable primary winner, and thus the inevitable Senator. Capuano has always been on the Unions’ side and had put his votes on the line representing that. The splits that came in the unions are a reflection of that.
The massive backing of money, most unions (some split) and big Democratic names such as Bill Clinton made Coakley appear to be an unstoppable force. None of the candidates were able to spend time doing typical campaigning of meeting the voters, shaking hands, doing town halls and such. The campaign came down to name recognition, ground game, commercials, and the debates (see above for the lack of debate in the primary). Emily’s List seemed to be the starter’s pistol as the money that came in reaffirmed the notion that she was the candidate to beat and the unions came in fast and furious to back her. I believe the reason they backed her was because the conventional wisdom said she was going to win in a landslide. The reason some of the unions split was because they were that loyal to Capuano who has always been on their side.
The reason that Coakley was seen as a shoe-in in some eyes was because of her approval ratings as AG. That’s undeniable. The state still views her quite favorably as a great AG. This was seen as transferable to the Senate race despite her lack of ever running an actual campaign on the state level. The other reason she was seen as the next Senator was her gender. Eyes lit up on her approval ratings and her gender as an easy claiming of Ted Kennedy’s seat for life. The vote results seemed to confirm this notion but it was a mirage actually. Weeks leading up to the primary vote I saw many Coakley sign holders at most of the main intersections of Boston (and some other towns) – I never saw a single female that entire time. I find it hard to believe that these unions (yes these were unions and not grassroots) couldn’t find a single female to go out to some of the most visible corners. Sign holders took a vacation along w/ Coakley after the primary but in the last week the sign holders were back, and again not a single female. That was shocking.
During the primary I saw plenty of Coakley bumper stickers but I never saw a single lawn sign except for a house on Morrisey Blvd across from Umass/Boston that always has huge signs for any Dem running. I consistently saw Brown signs popping up everywhere. They weren’t overwhelming but the fact that I couldn’t drive 2 blocks without seeing one was tipping me off that something was up in some of our strongest Dem-holds. And this was when Coakley was up 30 points and xmas was just around the corner. As the race went on I still didn’t see any Coakley signs but I did see more and more Brown signs going up.
What was obvious to me at the time apparently wasn’t obvious to the Coakley campaign. It wasn’t obvious to the national committees either as they didn’t do a fucking thing after the primary. I think it was obvious to the state machine but Martha was not part of it. The fact that our brutal state machine didn’t do shit for her on election day or the lead up is obvious. The White House attacked her for not having a ground game in the black districts like Roxbury but that should have been the Boston machine’s game, not her’s (Little known fact, the Boston machine never targets the black communities ever, for any race – there’s a reason for that). This was a disaster seen from miles away but the presumptions and the reassuring polls didn’t make anyone move. Certainly didn’t make Coakley think about campaigning at all.
From the start of the general election Scott Brown went out and started a ramped up typical election. He was traveling the state and asking people for their votes. He went hokey, regular guy with his truck. He brought his beautiful (and one semi-famous) daughters out on the stump and made ads with them including a late one that made Coakley seem like a monster. He showed up at Fenway Park to shake hands at the very rare Bruins game. He went door to door personally in Southie where Republicans are actually well received and then made a commercial out of it that made him seem like a lovable, regular guy.
While Brown was running a regular campaign, Coakley was skiing. She took the holidays off and justified it that people wouldn’t pay attention. When she came back it was time for debates and she was clearly not prepared for someone actually attacking her relentlessly. The first few debates weren’t that bad (Thanks to the Libertarian, Joe Kennedy furiously attacking Brown and him spending his time rebutting) but she didn’t learn for future debates. Brown’s attacks were now old but she didn’t come with counterattacks or even adequate defenses against them. In the last debate Brown got off his most famous line, “This isn’t the Kennedys’ seat, this isn’t the Democrats’ seat, this is the people’s seat!” The moderator (Gergen?) set him up easily for this line but the truth is, Brown had been using this line weeks prior to the final debate. I was rolling my eyes 2 weeks prior when I first heard him say it. There’s no reason someone in Coakley’s campaign didn’t hear it too and tell her to head it off at the pass.
This campaign wasn’t about Obama, and it wasn’t about Health Care Reform. I’d say it’s only vaguely about the “status quo.” This was a campaign about an awful candidate foisted upon us by the big shots without thinking it through. This was a campaign about the only election in the country where massive amounts of outside money and groups flooded in. This was a campaign about an inevitable candidate crowned early that the state machine was clearly not behind; they got in bed at the last minute but half-heartedly. This was a campaign won by a charismatic candidate against an uninspiring candidate. Brown deserved to win this on all fronts. This reflects nothing on the politics of Massachusetts as we’re still the same blue state. 53% of the electorate is unenrolled but it still leans Dem – the only caveat is you have to earn that vote or at the very least, ask for it.
An aside: Some people are blaming liberals for Coakley’s loss. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. As a fire breathing liberal who voted for Capuano and planned to write him in, I fell in line days before the election. I went out and got all of my fellow liberals to vote for her. We held our nose and voted for her and hoped that if we all came out we’d push her over the edge. Many people I know that voted for Coakley’s primary opponents but hated her sucked it up and voted for her. That being said, some are saying that Dems now need to lurch to the right (more than they are I guess); don’t even think about it. We had a super majority and couldn’t get shit done towards a progressive agenda. Here we all fell in line and lost anyway. The Dems have to bring us back as a whole or run someone who inspires us to knock Brown the fuck out in 2012. It’s a Prez election year so that should be easy in Massachusetts.