One election no one really cares about down, one to go.
Yeah, I know it’s a primary election held at a weird time of year, but c’mon, people. If you’re reading this and you didn’t vote, I am officially revoking your right to crab about anything the eventual winner of the election does once he or she gets to the US Senate.
And that’s the new question: who will voters send to the Senate next month? Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley or State Senator Scott Brown (R – Wrentham)?
Before I weigh in on that, let’s look at the primary race and how Coakley and Brown got their wins.
Well, with Brown it’s an easy answer: Jack E. Robinson sucks as a candidate. Sorry, Jack E., but it’s true; you popped up about a month before the election, then didn’t do a whole heck of a lot to promote yourself. You waste space on the ballot every time you half-heartedly run for something. Next time, get serious or get out of the way.
Coakley benefited from several factors, only some of which were within her control. Frankly, her ideas didn’t stand out in any huge way from Congressman Mike Capuano’s, Alan Khazei’s, or Steve Pagliuca’s, so I think it’s not unfair to say that she got by on superior name recognition born of a strong grass roots campaign, her mostly positive track record as AG, the fact that she wasn’t part of a federal government structure that has spent much of the year spinning its wheels and getting bogged down in pointless in-fighting (especially among the Dems), and her very disciplined presentation.
(That latter point, which was a plus in the primaries, may be a drawback from here on out, but I’ll get to that in a bit.)
That she was the sole female in the race? I think that heightened her visibility, but it’s tough to say whether it crossed the fine line into swaying voters…let’s just say it didn’t hurt her.
Capuano sank himself by playing the Ted Kennedy card as hard as he did. Perhaps he was trying to appeal to voters who liked Kennedy — and they are many — but instead he came across as a wannabe Kennedy carbon copy at a time when people are kind of tired of the same-old same-old.
Khazei’s story is lamentable. Of the four Dems I believe his desire to serve the public was the most sincere and selfless, but he showed his political inexperience by failing to get his message out early and often. He made a decent showing in the final weeks of the campaign — enough to barely surpass at the polls Steve Pagliuca, who came out of the gate at a respectable gallop — but it was too little too late. I for one would like to see Khazei regroup and take another shot, if not for this office in 2012 then for another major elected office.
Pagliuca, as mentioned above, started strong but couldn’t keep the momentum up, and time eventually proved his enemy. The more people got to know him, the more he came across as a businessman dabbling in politics rather than a serious candidate. And really, wheeling out a Celtics championship trophy during your later campaign stops just smacks of desperation.
So, now we come to January’s Big Game, and I think most would agree that Coakley has the edge in a state that, despite the fact more than half of its voters are unenrolled, is still very blue. She also has the advantage of greater exposure; Brown has been pounding the pavement a lot, but the limp GOP primary did him no favors as the Boston media’s spotlight has been solidly on the Democrats — therefore on Coakley — for months.
Brown is doing himself a disservice with some of the stuff he’s tossed out in his opening salvos against Coakley. On Monday he threw down what has become a standard gauntlet for whoever has less money to blow on a campaign: the challenge to refrain from accepting special interest money. Yeah, that old chestnut.
The Brown campaign issued the challenge earlier this week in response to an SEIU-sponsored radio ad series supporting Coakley. It read, it part:
“The news that SEIU is supporting Martha Coakley with a six-figure, last-minute expenditure is obscene. It reinforces the perception that she is the candidate of the status quo who will protect big government spending programs at the expense of taxpayers,” said Brown.
Brown said public employee unions like SEIU have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo at a time when people are looking for a new direction in Washington.
Brown added: “Martha Coakley needs to tell the big government unions to stop trying to buy this election. This election can’t be bought and we should let the people decide without any outside interference. We should be looking out for the people’s interests and not the special interests.”
“Accepting this money shows that Martha Coakley is already playing the role of the Washington insider. If she becomes the nominee we should expect more money from more special interest groups trying to influence this election.”
Now, for the record, Coakley is raking in some crazy union/PAC money (more than two dozen such donations according to the Federal Election Commission), but Brown himself has accepted a couple PAC donations during the campaign (and even more during his last state Senate run) — but more to the point: the tactic has to my knowledge never worked, either in terms of a candidate agreeing to turn down such hefty donations or in convincing the public Hey, I’m not some “Rich Uncle Pennybags Goes To Washington” type; I’m just an average guy who’s going to fight for you!
As I write this, Brown just fired off another favorite cliche, the I Won’t Raise Your Taxes And I Challenge My Opponent To Say The Same gambit. Again: has this ever worked? No one likes paying taxes and God knows people are digging it even less nowadays, but this is and always has been empty pandering.
Brown has also displayed a mildly combative attitude in the opening day of Phase Two. In his primary night acceptance speech, he called the Democratic primary a race for the title of “most liberal,” and said Coakley as US Senator would be a “partisan placeholder,” a “rubber stamp” for the Democratic supermajority, and (my favorite) “another robot who’s programmed to vote like the rest of our (Congressional) delegation.”
Now, if that fire can be reined in and strategically doled out in modest doses, it could add some much-needed zazz to a race that has thus far been a major league h0-hummer. It could even take Coakley off her carefully crafted and disciplined game and lead her to make a crucial misstatement; Coakley showed that she can handle a cool room with ease, but she hasn’t shown whether she can maintain that poise in the face of a more direct attack delivered with a side of hot sauce.
Yet, as we’ve seen too often, that fire can burn out of control too easily, and Massachusetts voters traditionally hate candidates who run aggressively negative. Recall if you will the 2004 effort to reinvigorate the GOP’s presence in the state Legislature, which flopped hard in part because the candidates ran negative, fast and furious and frequently (and I’ve heard the same accusation from local Republicans of a much more reasonable and level-headed nature).
An element of that negativity that has become increasingly common in Republican campaigns is an over-reliance on the GOP Big Book of Sound Bites, a collection of slogans, mottos, and high-concept sales pitches that, for starters, reveal an appalling lack of imagination on the candidate’s part.
Personally, I don’t want to hear Brown talk about how the country is going in the wrong direction, how anything with the tag “liberal” attached to it is bad bad bad, or how one-party rule is ruining things (it is, but it’s always disingenuous when coming from whichever party currently has the short end of the stick). I don’t want to hear Brown regurgitate the national platform chapter-and-verse in small easily digestible chunks that use lots of small words so I don’t get confused. I want to hear HIM; HIS ideas, explained to me at length and in detail, free of partisan contexts. Appeal to my intellect, please. Assume I have a guiding intelligence, a sense of reason and logic; don’t try to ply me with empty cliches that provoke a visceral response but tell me nothing.
An independent voice? Sure it is.
From a strategic standpoint, speaking in sound bites leaves one vulnerable. To wit: his crack about Coakley voting like a robot in lockstep with the Democrats? What, and he wouldn’t? Am I to believe Brown wouldn’t diligently vote exactly how the GOP wants him to, i.e., in direct opposition to anything coming from the Dems? He’s talked about limited government and honoring personal freedom, yet the standard GOP platform is pro-life and anti-same-sex marriage — in other words, things that limit an individual’s freedom to make very personal choices.
Ah, but what about Coakley, you ask? I’m not under any delusion that she’s a loyal Democrat and is going to vote as Democrats do, speak ill of the GOP as Democrats do, and yeah, probably support some new and creative ways to dig our national debt hole a little deeper and suck more money out of my pocket. Democrats have yet to prove to me they can shake off the “tax and spend” stereotype in any serious way, and in all honesty, I tend to like Republicans’ fiscal policies a lot more the Democratic policies (except for the whole “free market” thing…ask any retiree who saw his 401(k) vanish in a cloud of smoke if that system worked out well for him).
In her acceptance speech Coakley said she’d be a different kind of leader. Hm, let’s see: a Democrat running to replace a Democrat on an all-Democrat Congressional delegation that helps comprise a Congressional supermajority. Yeah…real different.
But Coakley I think has yet to truly reveal her big weaknesses, and again, I think that’s due to how carefully she’s crafted her message to minimize the chinks in her armor, but if Brown and the media do their respective jobs, Coakley will get a nice trial by fire and either reveal herself as a solid candidate or, as Brown put it, a Democratic placeholder in the US Senate.
If I could set the tone of this campaign, I would insist that each candidate tell me and my fellow voters why they’re not just clones cast in their respective party molds. I would insist that they stick to talking about ideas rather than political philosophies (or dogma, if you prefer). I would insist that they never play the blame game and try to build themselves up by tearing down their opponent and their opponent’s party. I would insist that they emphasize their own strengths rather than their opponent’s real or imagined weaknesses.
And I would insist that the voters, unlike in the primary, paid attention and got involved.