In a few hours, Martha Coakley will either lose her second straight high-profile race or be dragged across the finish line by a well-oiled Democratic turnout machine in a state where just 13 percent of registered voters are Republicans.
Either way, not a terribly impressive performance by the Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts. She failed even to win the endorsement of the Boston Globe! But not a terribly surprising one either.
Martha Coakley is perhaps the worst politician to enjoy a semi-successful political career.
That is saying something. Massachusetts is, after all, the state that gave us such dynamos as Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, both of whom mounted presidential bids with a straight face.
One-party states allow people with mediocre political skills to compile impressive-sounding electoral resumes. If you can navigate your way through primaries and nominating conventions few normal people pay any attention to, that “D” next to your name on the November ballot will take care of the rest of the work.
For the truly discerning and self-aware, there are warning signs. For example, Republicans broke 40 percent of the vote against Ted Kennedy only twice in nine elections. GOP candidates reached the 40 percent threshold against Kerry every six years until 2002, when Republicans didn’t field a candidate to run against him. That year, a Libertarian nearly broke 20 percent against Kerry.
But if you were truly discerning and self-aware, you would not launch a political career despite having the personality of a taxidermy subject. So the awfulness of Kerry and Dukakis as campaigners was not fully exposed until they ran for president.
Coakley’s was exposed in the commonwealth’s 2010 special Senate election. She had a real Republican opponent and did not know what to do.
Before he began moving from state to state in search of Senate seats, Scott Brown was a remarkably successful Republican politician in one of the most Democratic states. Brown had never lost an election in nine tries. This being Massachusetts, most of those races were competitive.
Brown had the gift of gab. He also was comfortable regaling voters in Boston sports lore and local customs. He liked to drive around in his truck, or at least he did a convincing enough job pretending he did. None of these things were true of Coakley.
Coakley did not appear comfortable on the stump. She complained about having to shake hands outside Fenway Park in the cold. Fairly or not, she was perceived as greeting voters as warmly as you would receive a telemarketer as you were about to sit down to dinner. Worst of all, she described legendary Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling as a “Yankees fan.”
Schilling isn’t Ted Williams. Nevertheless, this is roughly like describing Tom Brady as a Jets fan, Julian Lennon as a Yoko Ono fan or Joe McCarthy as a member of the Politburo.
Massachusetts, for all its cosmopolitan aspirations, is a very provincial place. Appearing to have been retrieved from a time capsule that was buried 50 years prior to the commonwealth’s founding is not going to be well received.
When Coakley ran for governor, she promised the Democratic State Convention she would do better. Nobody would meet more voters, knock on more doors, campaign harder, she vowed.
Her Republican opponent in the gubernatorial race has none of Scott Brown’s personal charms. Charlie Baker is a wonk, a technocrat, a health care CEO for God’s sake. He was also a recent election loser, falling to a vulnerable Deval Patrick in the previous governor’s election by six points.
Yet once again, Coakley couldn’t close the deal. The Globe’s endorsement of Baker is instructive. The liberal editorial page has occasionally endorsed Republicans when the Democrat is conservative, like Ed King in 1978 and John Silber in 1990. They endorsed Bill Weld when he was about to win reelection by 43 points.
Coakley is a liberal Democrat in a competitive race. The Globe wasn’t impressed. Neither, increasingly, are the voters. Baker has a 3.7-point lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Some people don’t like it when you call Coakley a choker. And it’s true she picked the two worst possible elections in recent memory, the GOP-friendly 2010 and 2014 cycles, to seek a promotion.
Independents now outnumber Democrats among registered voters. They have now experienced eight years without divided government and they don’t like it.
But give me a break. Michael Dukakis managed to be elected governor of Massachusetts three times. Win or lose, this election was Martha Coakley riding around in a tank.
W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.