if there might be a fancy multisyllabic German word that conveys the intention to avoid disappointment by not allowing oneself to hope.)
Enthusiasm gap in Mass. Senate race
January 16, 2010 07:51 PM EST
HYANNIS, Mass.—As the two candidates running in the special Senate election here barnstormed across the state Saturday, the enthusiasm gap between the two parties was on vivid display.
Democrat Martha Coakley, Massachusetts’ attorney general, kicked off a series of stops with a morning speech at a Boston union hall, receiving a response more polite than enthusiastic.
Coakley and Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late senator, both addressed a crowd of about 100 electrical workers but it fell to a state representative from nearby Dorchester to deliver the closing remarks aimed at firing up the Democrats.
“I see there is some excitement in this room but there is not enough excitement in this room,” Martin Walsh said, as the heavily male, Carhartt-and-jeans crowd stood with hands in pockets.
There was no need for such an exhortation on Cape Cod as state Sen. Scott Brown, the Republican nominee, was enveloped by a couple hundred, sign-waving supporters as he attempted to walk into a local pub where another hundred voters waited for an afternoon rally.
“People’s seat, people’s seat!” the Hyannis crowd chanted, aping the retort Brown gave at a debate Monday when asked about “the Kennedy seat.”
With three days until Bay State voters go to the polls to decide whether Democrats will retain their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the momentum plainly is with the GOP.
He’s drawing crowds rarely seen by Republicans in this state and seems to have more organic support than Coakley, an impression underscored by the imperfect measurement of yard signs spotted for the Republican (many) and the Democrat (none) along the South Shore and on the Cape.
Brown’s message of taking on the state’s entrenched Democratic majority—what he repeatedly calls “the machine”—and addressing a larger discontent among voters here toward Washington has given Republicans an opportunity to win their first Massachusetts Senate contest in nearly 40 years.
With Democrats now alerted to the threat, though, it’s uncertain whether the energy behind Brown will prove enough to overcome the structural disadvantage Republicans face in one of the most liberal states in the country. Vocal and enthused supporters are helpful—though not necessarily enough to get beyond scaring Coakley to actually beating her.
Clearly, though, Brown has Democrats back on their heels.
Coakley’s campaign had an air of desperation Saturday, as she and her Democratic allies sought to find something, anything, to arrest Brown’s surge.
In the mail, came a flier from the state Democratic Party claiming that the Republican would deny rape victims hospital care.
On the stump, Democrats sought to rally their loyalists by warning of outside agitators trying to foist a conservative agenda on Massachusetts.
“They’re sending people from Texas,” said Kennedy, holding up an article from a Texas newspaper about conservatives from the state heading north to stump for Brown.
“We in this commonwealth don’t need people to come in to tell us to stop progress,” Kennedy said.
And after Coakley seized Friday on Brown’s opposition to the new fee on big banks that President Obama proposed—an issue Democratic operatives said offered considerable promise—she moved on to a new line of attack Saturday, hitting her opponent for not giving his campaign staff health insurance
“This is the most malicious campaign that’s ever been run in Massachusetts,” Brown told reporters after stopping at a firehouse in Plymouth.
Of course Brown himself is also airing negative ads against Coakley, something he reluctantly admitted on Saturday.
And he’s also trying to pull off a political balancing act by asserting that he’d be an “independent voice” for Massachusetts while also seeking to harness the energy from conservative supporters who see him instead as a check on the Obama agenda—“the 41st vote,” a phrase that adorned more than a few home-made signs outside Tommy Doyle’s bar in Hyannis.
“This is not about some independent guy who is going to be an independent thinker,” Coakley told reporters in Boston. “He’s made it clear that he wants to be the 41st vote against healthcare and he will stand with Republicans to filibuster any changes that frankly we need to make if we’re going to turn this economy around.”
Brown refused to describe where he fell on the ideological spectrum, deflecting questions about whether he is a moderate or a conservative and only saying he’d support “Massachusetts interests.”
And while he did embrace his role of the 41st vote, he cast it not in obstructionist terms, but claimed it would “continue and promote conversation” in the capital.
Whatever Brown’s role in Washington would be, what’s beyond debate is that this campaign is being run on his terms.
His regular-guy image—illustrated by an ad showing him driving his pick-up truck—has penetrated and Democrats know it.
Walsh, the Dorchester state representative, opened his remarks to the electrical workers by noting that he, also, drives a truck.
“It takes more than having a nice TV commercial, it takes more than sound bytes,” he said.
At a Friday rally with former President Bill Clinton and again Saturday, Coakley herself also raised the 4-wheel-drive factor, quipping that just because somebody drives a truck doesn’t meant they’re headed in the right direction.
But Coakley, who despite a modest background carries herself with a patrician bearing, has compounded the problem voters with a series of gaffes that suggest she’s out of touch, most recently on Friday when she appeared on a Boston talk radio show and seemed not to have heard of former star Red Sox star pitcher Curt Schilling.
Some Democrats worry that there is something deeper at work.
“I think it’s a man-woman thing,” said Robert Cullinane, a Teamsters local leader in the Boston area.
Cullinane, speaking following the Clinton rally Friday, said some of his own members know that Brown opposes their agenda but are telling him, “‘I’m not voting for that broad.’”
“Unbelievable,” he said. “Here is someone who has voted against them on state issues yet they’re going to vote against ‘that broad.’”
Despite its liberal tradition, Massachusetts has never elected a female senator or governor.
Asked if her gender may be hurting her, Coakley said, “People ultimately will look at my record” and noted her election as a local prosecutor, attorney general and her record on labor issues.
But as he sought to rally the workers, Walsh admitted that he had “a lot of friends out there that are talking about voting the other way for whatever reason.”
Asked after the event, he conceded that sexism “is part of it.”
But more problematic for Coakley, he said, was something that spans the genders: “People are angry.”
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