It would be easy to say Scott Brown’s win was inevitable, given the strange and angry winds blowing across the land. It would be easier if Martha Coakley and whoever was advising her hadn’t made so many mistakes.
It’s going to take a few days for me to translate the message Massachusetts voters just sent. Not that anyone else will pause for even a moment before opining on the psychology of the Bay State voter. The national media is already inflating this election into a new shot heard ‘round the world, with the people who voted for Scott Brown heralded as heroes of a new political age.
Take note, by the way, of how often, in these next hours and days, the national media even mention the message sent by more than a million Massachusetts voters who went for Martha Coakley. Those voters, and their message, are disappearing from the conversation.
But before Coakley disappears, let me go further than repeating the generality that she ran a terrible campaign. Let me list some specific mistakes:
1. She didn’t reintroduce herself to voters after the primary. Her main positive commercial was boring -– just Coakley, talking to the camera -- and was endlessly repeated. We never saw the house she grew up in out in North Adams, or the house she owns now in Medford.
And where was her husband? Tom O’Connor is a retired cop. Why not a commercial showing him talking about how tough a prosecutor and caring a wife Martha is? She may not drive a pickup, but Coakley and her husband are more working class than Brown -- a rich lawyer who owns homes in Wrentham, Boston and Aruba -- and his wife, TV news reporter Gail Huff. Brown was at a disadvantage because Huff’s employer, WCVB, wouldn’t let her campaign with him (a gap their daughters ably filled). Coakley had no excuse for not showing her better half.
2. When Team Coakley went negative, they went overboard. A negative ad is supposed to make your opponent look ugly, but Brown looked pretty good even in Coakley’s negative ads. Those ads should have shown a lot less of Brown’s face and a lot more of Dick Cheney’s. And there were just too many of Coakley’s negative ads, so that when voters got irritated with all the commercials, Coakley took most of the blame.
3. When Brown started surging with independents, Coakley didn’t compete for centrist voters, she went straight for hard-core Democrats. She played the Kennedy card; she played the abortion card and she played the Obama card. Coakley preached to a dwindling number of died-in-the-wool Democrats, which turned off the independents even more.
4. Coakley ran an old-fashioned, front-runner’s campaign. When will candidates learn that endorsements from mayors and state reps are meaningless? Brown’s campaign was electric with grassroots energy; Coakley’s was lifeless.
5. Small errors happen in campaigns and candidates say dumb things, like calling Curt Schilling a Yankee fan. I don’t blame Coakley for her aide’s run-in with an aggressive Washington reporter. But I do blame her for going to Washington a week before the election for a fundraiser heavy with lobbyists. She should have sent John Kerry and Barney Frank to squeeze the fat cats while she campaigned hard at home.
6. Coakley let the campaign be nationalized, but she wasn’t ready with a national message. Promising to be Harry Reid’s 60th vote doesn’t inspire independents. Everyone’s mad about the way Congress is functioning; Coakley needed to show how she would fix it.
None of this is to diminish Scott Brown’s achievement. He ran a great campaign and caught lightning in a bottle in the last two weeks. His commercials were as bright as Coakley’s were lackluster. How he did it is another column.
It would be easy to say Brown’s win was inevitable, given the strange and angry winds blowing across the land. It would be easier if Coakley and whoever was advising her hadn’t made so many mistakes.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor of the MetroWest Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.townonline.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the newspaper.