Brown vs. Coakley Shows Obama Has Become a Political Albatross

Breaking basic rules of Massachusetts politics doesn't help either.

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By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Coverage of the Martha Coakley-Scott Brown Senate race brings to mind Yogi Berra’s famous quip, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Not because of Coakley claiming that Boston Red Sox great Curt Schilling was somehow a New York Yankees fan (more on that later) or even the apt comparison with the 1991 Harris Wofford-Dick Thornburgh special election which largely centered on health care (as Politico’s Alex Isenstadt noted).

Seeing President Barack Obama reverse course and make a last minute/last ditch effort to save the Coakley campaign brings back memories of November, when Obama put his prestige and political capital on the line in an unsuccessful attempt to save the gubernatorial campaigns of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and Virginia’s Creigh Deeds. Combined, those two elections were a stinging rebuke of the Obama Agenda–higher taxes, government control of health care and out of control spending. Since November, Obama’s poll numbers have only fallen. Coupled with the “perfect storm” that is Martha Coakley’s candidacy–a bad candidate running a bad campaign in a bad year for Democrats–and it may be shocking, but not altogether surprising that Scott Brown is in a position to win.

There are two basic unwritten rules in Massachusetts: don’t insult Catholics and don’t insult the Red Sox. They’re unwritten because it was unconceivable that any candidate would break them. Yet Coakley has managed to do both–suggesting Catholics should not work in emergency rooms, disparaging Fenway Park and picking a fight with Schilling that resulted in the Red Sox hero joining Brown on the campaign trail.

Coakley’s missteps, astonishing though they are, are really a sideshow to the larger issue of the effect Obama’s declining poll numbers have on Democratic candidates. When in a short three-month period Republicans win in New Jersey and are in a position to win in Massachusetts that translates into an environment absolutely poisonous for Democrats.

Reports have talked about a lack of enthusiasm in Coakley supporters compared to Scott Brown’s campaign–so choked with volunteers and money (Brown has raised more than $1 million every day last week) it can’t use them all. Regardless of tomorrow’s results, that this campaign has become a real race depresses Democratic enthusiasm, especially in key races. After Massachusetts, will Organizing for America volunteers be more or less likely to walk precincts and make GOTV phone calls for embattled Democrats? Will potential Democratic donors be more or less likely to open up their checkbooks on a campaign they’re just not sure about? Will Democrats in conservative and swing districts say “thanks, but no thanks” to offers of an Obama campaign stop?

Thus, in a sense, Brown’s campaign has already been successful. He’s campaigned on the Republican platform against an establishment Democrat–elected in 2007 with a whopping 73% of the vote–and is neck and neck in the polls. Win or lose, the Massachusetts Senate race demonstrates the political albatross the Obama agenda has become, especially with independents and disillusioned Obama voters.

For Democrats locked in tough election battles–including Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln, Michael Bennet in Colorado, Maryland freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, the race for the open Ohio Senate seat–Tuesday’s results are essentially both anti-climatic and unimportant. They’ve seen their 2010 electoral environment–and it ain’t pretty.

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  • Corrected on 01/18/10: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly spelled Dick Thornburgh’s name.