Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Closer than expected election in Bay State highlights danger of not being proactive

One of the biggest special elections in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is taking place today to decide who will succeed Ted Kennedy as junior United States Senator (John Kerry is now the senior senator).

The contest between Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley and Republican State Senator Scott Brown has drawn national attention in its waning days, with pundits and talking heads breathlessly trying to interpret election results that don't yet exist. It's true that polling can offer hints as to an electoral outcome, but it's also true that polling can be wrong. The only real poll is on Election Day.

That's not to say that Scott Brown won't win, or can't win. He has a solid chance at winning this special election. So does Martha Coakley... but therein lies the problem: Coakley should be the heavy favorite and she's not, because she failed to wage an aggressive campaign early on.

Instead, she coasted after her primary victory, going on vacation and waiting until after the holidays to do any serious organizing.

More recently, she has shied away from doing retail politicking, rather than seizing every opportunity to meet and greet future constituents. She should have made getting out and about an integral part of her daily campaign schedule. But she didn't. She's also committed several verbal gaffes which have become fodder for Bay State political commentators (including spelling Massachusetts wrong in the text at the end of a television ad).

By appearing aloof and distant, she ceded momentum to Scott "I've Got a Pickup Truck and it Proves I'm An Average Guy" Brown, whose operatives have been working feverishly to turn out independent voters, especially those disenchanted with the Obama administration and Congress. Coakley also missed an opportunity to strengthen her campaign's appeal by promising to be an anti-Joe Lieberman who would work to improve the healthcare reform bill before giving it her support.

Instead, she simply promised to be the sixtieth vote for the legislation... not a very inspiring campaign platform, especially considering that her Democratic base is feeling a bit disillusioned after a disappointing 2009 on Capitol Hill.

Coakley's missteps remind me of the Washington State Democratic Party's failure to effectively fight the message battle in the court of public opinion following Chris Gregoire's gubernatorial victory in 2004. Democratic lawyers eventually won a brilliant victory in a court of law that destroyed Dino Rossi's election challenge, but for six months, Republicans did an incredibly good job of convincing Washingtonians that Gregoire's victory was not legitimate.

I'm also reminded of the many unsuccessful campaigns against Tim Eyman initiatives that started too late and did not effectively reframe the debate after Eyman had taken control of it. I very much feared that that would happen last year with Initiative 1033, but fortunately, the coalition effort came together at the last possible moment, and we won a historic victory.

Still, the coalition put Washington's future at unacceptable risk by failing to engage Eyman early and often. That mistake must never be made again.

If we want to consistently beat the right wing, then we have to maintain vigorous, year-round opposition to the likes of Tim Eyman, and we have to create and sustain a proactive offense to further our own policy directions.

We can't let our guard down after we win a victory, and we can't allow someone as crafty as Eyman to go unanswered for the better part of a year. It's a recipe for failure. We at NPI and our allies have been counseled in the past not to respond to Eyman, out of the erroneous fear that doing so only gives him more attention. We have always rejected that advice because we know that Eyman gets the publicity regardless, and we lose by staying silent.

The special election to determine Ted Kennedy's successor has always been Martha Coakley's to lose, since she emerged as the Democratic nominee over a month ago. And there is a very real danger that she could lose.

We'll know in a few hours whether she and the Massachusetts Democratic Party swung into action soon enough to stop Scott Brown in his tracks, or whether complacency caused the preventable loss of the seat held by one of America's most liberal and principled Democratic senators for over three decades.


Blogger Steve Zemke said...

What Democrats stand for can not be assumed to be understood by the public without communicating. This is especially true with the the shrill voices of Tea Party fanatics screaming all kinds of nonsense.

Democrats need to engage the public in a dialogue over our country's future on an ongoing basis. Anyone who thought just electing Obama was the end of our country's problems because he would instantly solve all of our proplems was sorely mistaken.

Bush had 8 years to run our country down. It's time for Democrats to get re-engaged and stay engaged. Too much is at stake for a bunch of shrill name callers and shouters to determine our future.

January 19, 2010 1:33 PM  

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