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State Attorney General Martha Coakley speaks with media following a senatorial debate. A special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has tightened between the Democratic Coakley and Republican, state Sen. Scott Brown. The election is January 19.
State Attorney General Martha Coakley speaks with media following a senatorial debate. A special election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has tightened between the Democratic Coakley and Republican, state Sen. Scott Brown. The election is January 19. Darren McCollester/Getty Images
Presumably Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general aiming to be the state's next U.S. senator, has more political skill than she's demonstrated in recent days. She must be on a spectacularly ill-timed run of bad luck and rookie mistakes.
As Republican Scott Brown has roared from unknown to potential upset winner, Coakley came under fire for having her campaign largely go dark for weeks after the primary, but there was a certain logic to keeping a low profile during the holiday season; voters' minds are elsewhere. What's worse is what happened once the holidays ended.
For starters, it was tough to determine when the campaign was officially "awake." A week ago, the Boston Globe's Brian McGrory complained that Coakley "isn't doing anything in public — no meetings with voters, no debates, no public appearances. For all we know, she's spending much of her time at home with the shades drawn waiting for Jan. 19, Election Day, to come and go." (Then again, when running for attorney general, she refused to do any debates.)
When asked, during an interview, about her foreign-policy experience, she cited visiting her sister overseas.
The Globe's Joan Vennochi — not exactly a tough sell for Democratic candidates — couldn't hide the disappointment: "Coakley seems afraid to say what she believes in, giving voters reason to conclude she believes in nothing. With health-care reform, she sounds like she believes in what's necessary at any given moment. During the primary, she said she would vote against a bill that restricted abortion funding. Now, she supports a Senate bill that includes restrictions less severe than those in the House version. There are other examples of a campaign lacking in soul and a candidate lacking in heart."
Coakley's positive ad is strikingly generic, fitting almost any Democrat running for any position ("It's not what you say that matters, it's who you stand up for"), and her negative ad consists mostly of repeating the word "Republican" lots of times (and misspelling the name of the state she seeks to represent).
In the final debate, she said that there are "no terrorists" in Afghanistan. Presumably, she was thinking of a comment last year by National Security Adviser James Jones that there are fewer than 100 al-Qaeda members operating in Afghanistan. But "few" is not "none" and "terrorists" is not a synonym for "al-Qaeda," so she looks hopelessly out of touch making that argument after a suicide bomber killed seven CIA personnel in Afghanistan.
Of course, she's gone from once favoring capital punishment for cop killers and murderers who slay again while in prison, to opposing capital punishment in any circumstance, to saying she supports the law of the land — i.e., capital punishment.
Once Scott Brown collected a jaw-dropping $1.3 million in 24 hours, she and her campaign must have determined that they needed cash, and fast. This required the candidate to leave the hard-to-spell state and go to Washington, D.C., holding a fundraiser with lots of lobbyists, some from the health-care industry. Democratic strategist Michael Meehan, who is supposed to be helping the Coakley campaign with messaging, body-checked a Weekly Standard reporter to the ground right in front of the candidate. A day later, Coakley was lamely claiming, "I'm not sure what happened. I know something occurred, but I'm not privy to the facts" — photos show the Standard's reporter on the ground, illuminated by television cameras, in Coakley's line of sight — and lamenting that "I know there were people following, including two from the Brown campaign who have been very aggressive in their stalking."
Tough state attorneys general are probably unwise to play the victim card.
Inside the fundraiser, she said, "If I don't win, 2010 is going to be hell for Democrats." When asked about it, she said she did not say the words. Witnesses stand by their account, and urge any video of her remarks to be released. All of this serves to put more of a spotlight on the fact that when her campaign was in trouble, Coakley ran to a room full of lobbyists.
The Globe endorsed Coakley — the reverse would have been even more surprising than a Brown victory — but even in their praise, the editors had to acknowledge the obvious: "Coakley wasn't the most forceful or visionary candidate in the Democratic field, but her measured approach won broad support." Cynics will read between the lines, as follows: "She stinks, but she's the Democrat."
Coakley could very well win; indeed, even with Brown's surge of support and donations, she should win. But if she does fall short, she will have proven that there is indeed such a thing as a Democratic campaign and candidate too weak to win in Massachusetts.