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Legacy Content / POLITISCOPE

Lessons From Massachusetts?

Tuesday's Senate Primary Raised More Questions Than It Answered

December 9, 2009

Democrats in Massachusetts answered one big question Tuesday, overwhelmingly selecting state Attorney General Martha Coakley as their nominee to succeed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. In doing so, however, they created a host of new unknowns -- in the Bay State and beyond.

First, just how much trouble will Democrats face in 2010?

The answer will become clearer on Jan. 19, when Coakley faces a general election against Republican state Sen. Scott Brown. Republicans rightly downplay their chances in Massachusetts, which hasn't sent a Republican to Congress since 1994. And Brown remains a decided underdog against Coakley, who won her party's nod convincingly Tuesday. (She drew roughly twice as many votes as the two GOP candidates combined). But in the state's first open Senate contest in a quarter-century, Democrats will need to keep Brown's support under 40 percent to avoid questions about their national party's strength in the midterms.

 

Democrats rode anti-Bush sentiment back to power in 2006 and 2008. The evidence so far indicates they should retire that playbook in 2010.

Indeed, Brown on Tuesday night struck a surprisingly partisan tone for a blue-state Republican. "We can send another partisan placeholder to the United States Senate, or we can try something new," he said. "... A year has passed since one-party rule came to Washington, and the last thing we need is more of it." He told the Boston Herald that he'd let voters decide "if they want an independent voice in Washington watching their wallets and pocketbooks or someone in lock step with Harry Reid and the special interests who'll raise their taxes."

Second, should other women follow the Coakley strategy?

Female candidates across the country closely watched the Democrat's campaign, which highlighted her status as the only woman in the race to appeal to female voters. One of just two women ever elected to statewide office in Massachusetts, Coakley was endorsed by EMILY's List and received contributions from women in every state in the country. Early on, she highlighted the support of Rep. Niki Tsongas (D), the only woman currently in the state's congressional delegation.

In case the message was lost on anyone, Coakley last week trumpeted the support of Gloria Steinem. (I am woman, hear me endorse!) Then, for good measure, she ran a late round of robo-calls taped by Bill Clinton, a not-so-subtle reminder to undecided voters (most of whom were likely women) of her support for Hillary Rodham Clinton's historic presidential campaign. Clinton won the Massachusetts primary last year by 15 points.

"They said that women don't have much luck in Massachusetts politics," she said Tuesday night in her victory speech. "We believed that it was quite possible that that luck was about to change. And change it did tonight!"

Coakley's win Tuesday could offer clues to other Senate candidates who hold similar gender advantage in their respective primaries. Women like Cheryle Jackson (D) in Illinois, who was also endorsed by EMILY's List; Sue Lowden (R) in Nevada; Linda MacMahon (R) in Connecticut; and Kelly Ayotte (R) in New Hampshire.

How effective is the "anti-Bush" strategy for Democrats?

Democrats, who rode anti-Bush sentiment back to power in 2006 and 2008, have been quietly debating whether that strategy will still pack a punch in 2010. The evidence so far indicates they should retire the playbook. Last month in New Jersey, for example, Governor-elect Chris Christie (R) overcame his role as a Bush-appointed U.S. attorney -- and reports that he consulted Karl Rove before joining the gubernatorial race -- to defeat incumbent Jon Corzine (D) by a wide margin. Last night, Rep. Mike Capuano (D), who positioned himself as a Capitol Hill insider who had led the party's fight against George W. Bush, trailed Coakley by about 20 points.

Does money matter?

Not as much as experience. Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca (D) spent more than $9 million of his own money on his campaign. That's more than all other three candidates combined. He placed dead last in the four-candidate race.

What role do the Kennedys now play in Massachusetts?

Coakley won resoundingly Tuesday despite her campaign's unorthodox treatment of the liberal lion. Last summer, months before Kennedy died, Coakley irked family insiders as she not-so-quietly prepared to launch her Senate bid. She was the first Democratic candidate to formally launch her campaign, on Sept. 3, just days after he passed away Aug. 25. Of the four Democratic candidates, she was the only one who did not run a TV ad paying tribute to him.

The only Kennedy to make a public endorsement, Max Kennedy, backed another candidate, Alan Khazei (D), who also drew kind words from the late senator's niece, Caroline Kennedy. Notably, none of the family members is expected to attend a Democratic unity breakfast Wednesday in Boston.

So while Democratic voters continue to hold Kennedy in high regard, that respect apparently didn't have a big impact on their choice to replace him.

Then again, voters don't have to say goodbye to the Kennedy name. A third Senate candidate, independent Joe Kennedy, will be on the general election ballot next month. No relation, of course, but a Kennedy nonetheless.

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