After convincing most of us she wasn’t worried about coasting to victory in January’s special US Senate election, Martha Coakley’s actions tell a different story. The Democratic Party nominee’s cynical move to include phony candidate Joseph L Kennedy in upcoming debates is designed to eliminate the unpleasant prospect of directly facing Republican Scott Brown on camera.
As Coakley has a reputation for weak campaigning skills (due to a lack of opponents over the years) and a cold, distant public speaking style, adding fraudulent faker Kennedy (who is attempting to capitalize on surname confusion, he is unrelated to the family) is a ploy to undermine Brown.
If the general election was truly a cakewalk, Coakley wouldn’t waste the energy making a silly move like this, as it wouldn’t matter. Clearly, her internal polling shows this to be a tighter race than the public would believe (especially due to incredibly low expected turnout). She’s a lousy poker player.
So that begs the question: WHY is there cause for worry from the Coakley camp?
I think it’s directly tied to the last comparable open seat free-for-all in Massachusetts: the 2007 race between Democrat Niki Tsongas and Republican Jim Ogonowski in the Fifth Congressional District. In that one, Tsongas should have won by 20 points, given warm feelings toward her late husband, Paul.
Instead, she won in a relative squeaker, slightly more than five percentage points ahead of Ogonowski, a badly underfunded Republican whose claim to fame was based on his brother’s heroic role as a pilot during the 9-11 attacks.
Here’s the kicker: the national political climate two years ago heavily favored Democrats, as Bush’s popularity faded and the GOP lost control of Congress. It never should have been a competitive race, yet just a bit of attention from the increasingly inept national party could have put the Republican over the top.
In 2009, we’ve got the opposite environment, with Obama’s popularity fading fast and Republicans now leading Democrats on the generic congressional ballot (historically rare).
If Scott Brown were to run a more effective (aggressive) campaign than Ogonowski in 2007, Martha’s cakewalk vanishes and this becomes a truly tight race.
Coakley’s also got an even bigger problem: many of her voters may wrongly assume the race ended on primary day. Or, if they’re aware of the general election, they assume Coakley will sail to victory, so there’s no need to vote.
By contrast, the opposition is chomping at the bit to get a chance to go to the polls and express their disgust. It’s up to Scott Brown to channel that energy and get his own side fired up as much as possible.