Why Scott Brown is Competitive in the Massachusetts Senate Race

Voters? No time to deal with them!

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

If Martha Coakley wins with less than a landslide Tuesday, or if she actually loses, there will be a great deal of analysis about how the sour national mood hurt her, and what it all means for Democrats in the 49 other (less Democratic) states come November. And it will be good, solid analysis (it has in fact already begun--see Chris Cillizza's fine post here).

But Massachusetts is the state that brought us the late Thomas "Tip" O'Neill and his maxim that all politics is local. And if Coakley sinks, or barely survives, it will not just be because the Democratic brand is unpopular. It seems that she has forgotten Tip's motto, and run a startlingly poor campaign.

O'Neill famously developed his maxim after he lost his first political race, for the Cambridge City Council. A neighbor told him that she would vote for him despite his not asking for her vote. When he said that because he had known her all of his life, had done chores for her like shoveling snow and cutting grass, he didn't think he needed to ask for her vote, she told him: "Tom, let me tell you something. People like to be asked."

Coakley doesn't seem to have absorbed this lesson. There had been reports for some time that she was running a quiescent campaign. She raised much more money than he did, but he was on television first. (With Democrats in full defense mode now, Coakley's allies are outspending Brown's by a factor of 2-1.) But a couple of stories published on her the last couple of days, I think, really capture what's been wrong with her approach. From today's New York Times:

Ms. Coakley, 56, said she had not invested much time in pressing the flesh around the state because the campaign had been so brief — the primaries were on Dec. 8 — and she believed it was more useful to meet with politicians, union leaders and others who could help get her message out.

“You simply do not have enough time,” she said. “Between Dec. 8 and Jan. 19, you can’t possibly shake enough hands of people who don’t know you to be successful in a campaign.”

Talk about old fashioned politicking. Voters? No time for them--I'm going straight to the political elites and bosses. You can almost smell the cigar smoke wafting in from the back room. Delegating to surrogates the hard work of vote-getting might seem more efficient, but politics isn't efficient. The last few elections have proven the importance of peer contact in turning out votes--but as one element of a strategy, not as the whole game plan. Most candidates manage to woo both voters and politicos, after all. And the bottom line is that people still like to be asked, by the candidate herself. (And if you're going to run a don't bother with the voters race, why in heaven's name would you tell a reporter?)

But she really appears to not get it. This is from the Boston Globe:

Coakley bristles at the suggestion that, with so little time left, in an election with such high stakes, she is being too passive

“As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?’’ she fires back, in an apparent reference to a Brown online video of him doing just that. “This is a special election. And I know that I have the support of Kim Driscoll. And I now know the members of the [Salem] School Committee, who know far more people than I could ever meet.’’

Standing outside Fenway Park ... in the cold ... shaking hands. Wow, that sounds suspiciously like someone might do if they were running for office. And trying to win.