Friday, January 15, 2010

Nail-Biter in Massachusetts

Summary: Will party unity be able to bring another win for the GOP in a traditionally Democratic State, or can Coakley secure Ted Kennedy's seat on Tuesday?

So far this blog has not really given any insight to the unexpectedly close special election for Senator in Massachusetts. It would be irresponsible if we let that continue. So here’s a little breakdown of what to watch for in the race.

First and foremost, this is a toss-up. Polling - both internal and independent - shows that this race has been getting tighter in the past two weeks. Nate Silver, the polling guru of, agreed on this in a post last night.

Democratic State Attorney General Martha Coakley should by all means be a safe candidate in a liberal state like Massachusetts. But her approval rating (about 49%) is only about 8 points higher than her disapproval rating. Meanwhile her opponent - Republican State Sentator Scott Brown - has a firm approval rating at 57% with disapproval in the mid 30s.

Already fearing a Republican win, many Democrats are speculating that the Coakley campaign just isn’t doing it’s job well enough.

As Byran York writes for the Washington Examiner:

…some Democrats, eager to distance Obama from any electoral failure, are beginning to compare Coakley to Creigh Deeds, the losing Democratic candidate in the Virginia governor's race last year. Deeds ran such a lackluster campaign, Democrats say, that his defeat could be solely attributed to his own shortcomings, and should not be seen as a referendum on President Obama's policies or those of the national Democratic party.

The same sort of thinking is emerging in Massachusetts. "This is a Creigh Deeds situation," the Democrat says. "I don't think it says that the Obama agenda is a problem. I think it says, 1) that she's a terrible candidate, 2) that she ran a terrible campaign, 3) that the climate is difficult but she should have been able to overcome it, and 4) that Democrats beware -- you better run good campaigns, or you're going to lose."

Boy, does that sound familiar.

With the election coming up on Tuesday the campaigns are now heading into GOTV weekend. Polls will now be largely unreliable, and who will win is anyone’s guess. But from what we’ve seen, things aren’t looking much better for Coakley.

They should. With so many Democrats in Massachusetts it should be easy for the campaign to get enough of them to the polls on Election Day. It may mean a lot of stressful hours this weekend for her staff (and I’m sure they will be) but it shouldn’t theoretically be too difficult.

Of course, that’s what we said about the gubernatorial race in New Jersey last year.

And Brown’s GOTV efforts will be a lot easier with significant supplementation from other GOP campaigns across the country. Politico reports today that Republican congressional campaigns from Connecticut to Texas, Pennsylvania to Florida, and just about everywhere else are transferring their time and energy to the Massachusetts race.

From the article:

Some campaigns are blasting e-mails to supporters, prodding them to cut checks. Others are temporarily turning their headquarters into phone banks. A few are even encouraging volunteers to head to Massachusetts…

Now that’s some party unity. The direct benefit to these other campaigns is not obvious. But apparently there is a morale effect. These other GOP campaigns believe that if a Republican can win Ted Kennedy’s old seat, then anything is possible - and that will really encourage their supporters.

There are definitely some undecided voters at this point - probably 4%-5% of the electorate. Voters who haven’t made up their minds by GOTV weekend typically split about 50-50 when they enter the polls. That might not be what Coakley wants to hear.

Yet, I have to imagine this race could be different. Many of these last minute voters who will make their decision on Election Day (even as late as when they head into the booth) will no doubt be thinking about Ted Kennedy’s legacy. It hasn’t really been a big enough issue in the campaign, but it helps - no doubt - that Kennedy’s widow recently cut this ad for Coakley:

Hopefully for Coakley, this message will resonate with last minute voters.

But hope is not enough. Inevitably, the Coakley campaign will need to get-out-the-vote this weekend like none other if they want to send her to Washington.

Note: because this is a critical 60th seat for Senate Democrats, we hope you can spare some time to make calls on behalf of the Coakley campaign. You can help them out this weekend by signing up to volunteer at, or through OFA.

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