Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Six days to go

Six days and an hour or two from now we'll find out if all of the craziness of the last week of this Senate race has been a bunch of nothing, or if Martha Coakley's campaign is the political version of the 2004 Yankees collapse at the hands of the Red Sox. The final result will be nowhere in between. It will either be an historic win or an epic collapse. From this vantage point, here is where things stand...

Coakley's strategy seems clear. If she gets Democratic and Democratic-leaning women out to the polls, she will win. It's been clear since about the 40 minute mark of Monday's debate that this is her strategy. She set the trap by mentioning Scott Brown's sponsorship of an amendment that would allow hospitals and/or hospital workers to refuse to provide emergency contraception to a rape victim based on religious objections.

She followed up with a pretty tough advertisement linking Scott Brown to "Washington Republicans" and mentioning that Brown voted to deny treatment to rape victims.

Brown took the bait by sending his daughters out to hold a press conference defending their dad's honor, then swallowed it whole by following up today with a radio ad featuring his daughters.

In theory, this works out like so: women who traditionally vote Democratic but have not warmed up to Coakley learn that Brown cares more about protecting the Church than he does about them. They figure that there is no way that they can allow someone with those views to become our next senator, so they make sure they come out to vote.

If that isn't enough, Brown isn't even man enough to defend himself, so he hides behind his college-age daughters. (This opinion doesn't come out of the blue from me. In the debate, he responded to Coakley's charge by referencing his daughters. My wife was watching with me and bringing his family into the debate didn't sit well with her at all).

Or at least that's the way it was supposed to work. But this is the Coakley campaign and true to form, they've been stomping all over their message. That attack ad that they revealed immediately after the debate was a bit too strong. It includes an image of a woman crying in a stair well to represent a rape victim and frankly, I think that might turn off as many voters as it brings in. (It reminded me of the Kerry Healey ad from the 2006 governor's race showing the soon-to-be rape victim being stalked in the parking lot ).

Maybe even worse than that, the disclaimer at the end of the ad spelled Massachusetts incorrectly (Massachusettes). So the Coakley story on the 11 o'clock news that night was the misspelling of the ad, which means she completely wasted one of the last seven days of the campaign, at least from a free media standpoint.

Of course, Coakley wasn't in Massachusetts--however you want to spell it--to push the issue. Instead, she went to Washington, DC to raise money from big donors. Now, raising money is part of the deal. I certainly don't fault her for that. But this has become such a high-profile race that Coakley could have raised a boatload of money in Washington without leaving the campaign trail for a day. To compound things, one of her advisers got into an altercation with a reporter from a right-wing magazine, which fueled more bad press.

For his part, Brown is clearly rattled by the revelation of his anti-rape victim amendment. He denied it completely at the debate on Monday. He overreacted by sending his kids out to defend him (as if they have anything to do with the amendment he proposed. Remarkably, he even said that he couldn't remember even filing the amendment, implying, I guess, that the official Senate journal might be incorrect?

He appears to be vulnerable when directly confronted on his record. At the debate, he denied saying that he was skeptical of global warming, even when read back a direct quote. He denied and then claimed he didn't remember the details of the anti-rape victim amendment.  The question is whether or not he will have to answer for those. (This is a major reason, by the way, that I thought Coakley should have jumped at the chance to debate him one-on-one).

Of course, it should not have even come to this. When the primary was over, Coakley had a 20-point or better lead in the polls. Brown had little statewide name recognition. If Coakley had taken the three weeks after the primary to do what she is scrambling to do now--define Scott Brown as a cookie cutter Republican out of touch with Massachusetts values--the race would have been over long ago. Instead, she let Brown define himself.

Now, Coakley has to try to convince voters that the handsome man who drives a truck is really some sort of monster. Had she done her job in December, Brown would be the one having to convince voters he is not a monster, but a good guy with a truck.

As terrible as her campaign has been, Coakley is still in the driver's seat. In every poll but one--whether up two points or 15 points--she has polled at least 49%. 49% will win. But she needs all of us who are supporting her to get out and vote on Tuesday.
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