It’s been a fairly long time since Attorney General Martha Coakley famously lost Massachusetts to State Senator Scott Brown. A look back at the race gives an insightful view into the Republican machine, and how Republicans are often quite effective when campaigning.
Mr. Brown ran a classic Republican campaign. He effectively painted Ms. Coakley as lazy and unwilling to campaign, a politician who didn’t care about Massachusetts, who simply assumed that Massachusetts would vote Democratic because it always did. Every minor mistake Coakley made – a stupid statement here, a word spelled wrongly there – was turned into further support for this theme.
These are classic Republican tactics; they are the bread and butter of the Republican machine. Senator John McCain’s campaign spent all summer creating controversy out of nothing. For instance, he ran an ad accusing Senator Barack Obama of not visiting the troops; one of the images in the ad originally showed Mr. Obama draining a three-pointer in front of – guess what – the troops. Mr. McCain’s ad then photoshopped the troops out. In the end Mr. Obama’s campaign, with the helpful aid of Fox News, spent an entire week engulfed in artificial controversy.
Martha Coakley fell victim to similar tactics. She famously didn’t know who Curt Schilling was, for instance – a mistake Mr. Brown used to paint her as elite out-of-touch. Yet being familiar with sports has absolutely nothing to do with being a good Senator or making decisions that affect the country’s well-being. President George W. Bush was a devoted sports fan; that didn’t make him a good president.
Republicans also attacked Ms. Coakley for misspelling Massachusetts in an ad – another variation on the “Martha doesn’t care about Massachusetts” theme. In reality the misspelling occurs for one second in the credits; it isn’t even noticeable unless it’s specifically pointed out to an individual. Chances are that the misspelling had nothing to do with Ms. Coakley; it was probably the fault of a tired staffer running low on sleep. Perhaps more pertinently, if a crisis occurs and the United States is under grave threat, being able to spell “Massachusetts” will not save the nation.
The problem was that Ms. Coakley’s campaign never bothered to point any of this out. It never worked to counter Mr. Brown’s narrative, to say that knowing Curt Schilling’s name has absolutely nothing to do with being a good Senator. Instead, Ms. Coakley essentially ran a turn-out operation, desperately urging Democrats to vote rather than characterizing Mr. Brown’s narrative as wrongheaded. Nationally, Democrats panicked and ran around like chickens with their heads cut off.
In light of this analysis, it comes not as a surprise but almost as expected that Ms. Coakley performed as she did.