Commentary Magazine


Topic: Fenway Park

A Perfect Political Storm

A month ago even most political junkies – at least outside Massachusetts – would have been hard-pressed to name the Democratic and Republican candidates in tomorrow’s special election for U.S. Senate. In that Bluest of Blue states, which hasn’t had a Republican senator in 32 years and has no Republican House members, it was a foregone conclusion that Martha Coakley was going to win in a walk. She was 30 points ahead. Ho hum.

But Coakley obviously believed she was a shoe-in and at first ran a lackluster, minimal, take-no-risks campaign. She even took a week off to celebrate the holidays. And when she was campaigning, she made gaffe after gaffe. She said that Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan; dissed Fenway Park; said Catholics (48.2 percent of the electorate in Massachusetts) shouldn’t work in emergency rooms because, in effect, Church teachings on abortion conflict with the liberal gospel; and said that “we need to get taxes up.” Her opponent, Scott Brown, has run a smart, effective campaign and seems to have pitch-perfect political instincts. His “it’s the people’s seat” was the best sound bite to come out of a debate in years.

Suddenly what had been a sure thing became competitive, and the national parties and political activists across the country awoke to what was at stake. Scott Brown’s election would end the Democrat’s filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. More, the election quickly became perceived as a referendum on the increasingly unpopular ObamaCare and on President Obama, himself. It became clear that a Brown win would be interpreted as a rebuke to the President and almost certainly mean the end of ObamaCare in anything like its present form. It would make Democrats in Congress, especially those in competitive seats, far more reluctant to vote in ways that might be unpopular. It would induce some Democrats facing uphill campaigns next November to retire.

Republicans, watching Brown climb the polls, sensed a historic opportunity. Democrats, watching Coakley drop in the polls, sensed a disaster in the making. Resources, money, and people from around the country have poured into Massachusetts in the last two weeks. The news networks sent their heavy hitters to cover the election. Pundits covered the story like a rug. And Brown kept climbing. Coakley kept making mistakes like flying to Washington to collect money from lobbyists at a private cocktail party and saying she didn’t know anything about a member of her entourage roughing up a reporter, even though photographs showed her standing right there, watching it happen from five feet away.

Finally President Obama, who had had no plans to campaign personally, decided to put his own prestige on the line to salvage the situation. It was a big risk, as a loss for Coakley would now inescapably be seen as a rebuke to him.  But he was in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t situation. He and Coakley had a rally at Northeastern University. The hall wasn’t filled. Brown (and Curt Schilling) had a rally in Worchester. It was jammed. Hand-painted yard signs have sprung up all over the state for Brown, and the momentum seems to be all with him. Once down 30 points, he is now up from 4 to 11 points, although polling in this sort of election is very unreliable. Intrade, a prediction market that taps into the “wisdom of crowds,” had Coakley up 55-45 a few days ago but now has Brown up 64-37.

Six weeks ago, nobody cared. Now the entire political nation is awaiting the outcome of what might well be regarded as the most important and consequential by-election in American history.

A month ago even most political junkies – at least outside Massachusetts – would have been hard-pressed to name the Democratic and Republican candidates in tomorrow’s special election for U.S. Senate. In that Bluest of Blue states, which hasn’t had a Republican senator in 32 years and has no Republican House members, it was a foregone conclusion that Martha Coakley was going to win in a walk. She was 30 points ahead. Ho hum.

But Coakley obviously believed she was a shoe-in and at first ran a lackluster, minimal, take-no-risks campaign. She even took a week off to celebrate the holidays. And when she was campaigning, she made gaffe after gaffe. She said that Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan; dissed Fenway Park; said Catholics (48.2 percent of the electorate in Massachusetts) shouldn’t work in emergency rooms because, in effect, Church teachings on abortion conflict with the liberal gospel; and said that “we need to get taxes up.” Her opponent, Scott Brown, has run a smart, effective campaign and seems to have pitch-perfect political instincts. His “it’s the people’s seat” was the best sound bite to come out of a debate in years.

Suddenly what had been a sure thing became competitive, and the national parties and political activists across the country awoke to what was at stake. Scott Brown’s election would end the Democrat’s filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. More, the election quickly became perceived as a referendum on the increasingly unpopular ObamaCare and on President Obama, himself. It became clear that a Brown win would be interpreted as a rebuke to the President and almost certainly mean the end of ObamaCare in anything like its present form. It would make Democrats in Congress, especially those in competitive seats, far more reluctant to vote in ways that might be unpopular. It would induce some Democrats facing uphill campaigns next November to retire.

Republicans, watching Brown climb the polls, sensed a historic opportunity. Democrats, watching Coakley drop in the polls, sensed a disaster in the making. Resources, money, and people from around the country have poured into Massachusetts in the last two weeks. The news networks sent their heavy hitters to cover the election. Pundits covered the story like a rug. And Brown kept climbing. Coakley kept making mistakes like flying to Washington to collect money from lobbyists at a private cocktail party and saying she didn’t know anything about a member of her entourage roughing up a reporter, even though photographs showed her standing right there, watching it happen from five feet away.

Finally President Obama, who had had no plans to campaign personally, decided to put his own prestige on the line to salvage the situation. It was a big risk, as a loss for Coakley would now inescapably be seen as a rebuke to him.  But he was in a damned-if-he-did-damned-if-he-didn’t situation. He and Coakley had a rally at Northeastern University. The hall wasn’t filled. Brown (and Curt Schilling) had a rally in Worchester. It was jammed. Hand-painted yard signs have sprung up all over the state for Brown, and the momentum seems to be all with him. Once down 30 points, he is now up from 4 to 11 points, although polling in this sort of election is very unreliable. Intrade, a prediction market that taps into the “wisdom of crowds,” had Coakley up 55-45 a few days ago but now has Brown up 64-37.

Six weeks ago, nobody cared. Now the entire political nation is awaiting the outcome of what might well be regarded as the most important and consequential by-election in American history.

Read Less

Re: The D Handicap

If you think I was harsh comparing Martha Coakley to Creigh Deeds, take a peek at Gail Collins’s rant today. She says that Coakley “is the kind of candidate who reminds you that the state that gave birth to John Kennedy also produced Michael Dukakis.” She grumbles:

She is the attorney general, and her speaking style has been compared to that of a prosecutor delivering a summation to the jury. In civil court. In a trial that involved, say, a dispute over widget tariffs.

She is so tone deaf that she made fun of her opponent for standing outside Fenway Park shaking hands “in the cold.” A week before the election, Coakley was off the campaign trail entirely in Washington for a fund-raiser that was packed with the usual suspects. But undoubtedly it was well heated. … This week Coakley unleashed a hard-hitting ad that charged Brown with being, um, a Republican. Brown’s hard-hitting response charged Coakley with running a negative ad. He is generally thought to have gotten the best of that round, especially given that little mishap with the spelling of the name of the state.

Collins is, I suspect, representative of most Democrats, who now realize that Coakley could lose. And just as they began to trash Creigh Deeds in advance of the election to insulate the White House from blame, they’re putting the potential catastrophe on the shoulders of the candidate in Massachusetts. But to her credit, Collins hints that there’s no escaping the source of the Democrats’ angst: “The people who voted for Barack Obama, meanwhile, are sullen and dispirited. This is, of course, partly because of the economy, but also partly because of the sense that the president is not getting anything done.” And it’s partly because he didn’t turn out to be anything special — not a motivational presence post-election, not an eloquent leader of liberalism, and not someone who cared much about hewing to any of his campaign themes (e.g., transparency, not taxing non-rich people).

There is, as Collins notes, a huge imbalance in enthusiasm. The Republicans in Massachusetts are pumped up and can taste a huge upset. The Democrats alternate between panic and despondency. You’ll see more of this, I suspect, in many more races this year. And after a while, it’ll be hard, even for the most ardent media spinner, to blame failure on each and every one of the Democratic candidates.

If you think I was harsh comparing Martha Coakley to Creigh Deeds, take a peek at Gail Collins’s rant today. She says that Coakley “is the kind of candidate who reminds you that the state that gave birth to John Kennedy also produced Michael Dukakis.” She grumbles:

She is the attorney general, and her speaking style has been compared to that of a prosecutor delivering a summation to the jury. In civil court. In a trial that involved, say, a dispute over widget tariffs.

She is so tone deaf that she made fun of her opponent for standing outside Fenway Park shaking hands “in the cold.” A week before the election, Coakley was off the campaign trail entirely in Washington for a fund-raiser that was packed with the usual suspects. But undoubtedly it was well heated. … This week Coakley unleashed a hard-hitting ad that charged Brown with being, um, a Republican. Brown’s hard-hitting response charged Coakley with running a negative ad. He is generally thought to have gotten the best of that round, especially given that little mishap with the spelling of the name of the state.

Collins is, I suspect, representative of most Democrats, who now realize that Coakley could lose. And just as they began to trash Creigh Deeds in advance of the election to insulate the White House from blame, they’re putting the potential catastrophe on the shoulders of the candidate in Massachusetts. But to her credit, Collins hints that there’s no escaping the source of the Democrats’ angst: “The people who voted for Barack Obama, meanwhile, are sullen and dispirited. This is, of course, partly because of the economy, but also partly because of the sense that the president is not getting anything done.” And it’s partly because he didn’t turn out to be anything special — not a motivational presence post-election, not an eloquent leader of liberalism, and not someone who cared much about hewing to any of his campaign themes (e.g., transparency, not taxing non-rich people).

There is, as Collins notes, a huge imbalance in enthusiasm. The Republicans in Massachusetts are pumped up and can taste a huge upset. The Democrats alternate between panic and despondency. You’ll see more of this, I suspect, in many more races this year. And after a while, it’ll be hard, even for the most ardent media spinner, to blame failure on each and every one of the Democratic candidates.

Read Less




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