In what should have been a no-brainer, cakewalk, slam-dunk of an election for the Democratic Party in yesterday's Massachusetts Senate Race, the party was instead rocked by candidate Martha Coakley's upset loss to Republican Scott Brown.
The Democratic Party has no one to blame for this outcome other than themselves. Their mistakes during this campaign were myriad and increasingly foolish.
How could a Republican win a senate seat in one of America’s “bluest” states? Was it all about healthcare reform? Did Martha Coakley, the Democratic nominee, run that bad a race? And how did the political environment change so fast from last year?
That last question in particular is an important one and the Patchwork Nation map is helpful in providing some answers.
Many will see Tuesday’s vote as a stunning shift from 2008’s Democratic sweep, and maybe it is. Mr. Brown captured a seat that former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) had held for 47 years before passing away last summer. And there are some unique factors in Massachusetts, such as the fact that the state already has its own state healthcare system.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democrat vying to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was roundly mocked in the Red Sox-crazy state for mistakenly suggesting in a radio interview that Curt Schilling, the former Red Sox pitcher, is a Yankee fan.
Mr. Schilling was accorded near-heroic status here for guiding the team to victory over their arch-rivals, the Yankees, in a key game in 2004 while his own sock was literally bloody from an ankle injury. The radio exchange was quickly blasted to reporters by gleeful Republicans.
It was Ms. Coakley who brought up baseball in the interview on WBZ News Radio. She noted that her rival, Scott Brown, a Republican State Senator, had been campaigning in Boston Friday with Rudolph W. Giuliani, and she reminded listeners that Mr. Giuliani is a Yankee fan.
The interviewer, Dan Rea, said, “Yeah, but now Scott Brown has Curt Schilling, OK?’’
To which Ms. Coakley replied, “And another Yankee fan.’’
“Schilling?’’ Mr. Rea pressed.
“Yes,’’ she said.
“Curt Schilling a Yankee fan?’’ he persisted.
“No, all right, I’m wrong on my, I’m wrong,’’ she said.
Mr. Schilling, who helped Senator John McCain win the New Hampshire primary in 2008 by campaigning with him there, and who has been supporting Mr. Brown, fired back on his own blog. “I’ve been called a lot of things,’’ he wrote, “but never, and I mean never, could anyone ever make the mistake of calling me a Yankee fan. Well, check that, if you didn’t know what the hell is going on in your own state maybe you could….”
Is it possible that Coakley simply didn’t know who Schilling - the most legendary folk hero in Red Sox Nation since Carlton Fisk - was? I highly doubt it, not just because Schilling - and that bloody sock - are so famous in Massachusetts, but because the pitcher openly considered throwing his Red Sox cap into the ring for that race.
Instead, Schilling threw his support behind Brown, and repeatedly criticized Coakley on his 38 Pitches blog even before her infamous radio interview. And the ballplayer played a big part in publicizing the candidate’s first sports-related gaffe. Last week, under the headline “Want Another Reason to Not Vote for Martha Coakley,” Schilling highlighted a Boston Globe interview with the Democrat about her campaign. Thanks to Schilling’s post, this story got a ton of traction in the blogosphere:
"Coakley bristles at the suggestion that, with so little time left, in an election with such high stakes, she is being too passive. “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?” she fires back, in an apparent reference to a Brown online video of him doing just that."
The Globe didn’t elaborate on what Coakley was referring to; Brown showed up outside Fenway Park on New Years’ Day to talk to hockey fans gathering for the Winter Classic hockey game between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. Making an appearance at such an event would seem to be a natural for a politician with a big election coming up. But Coakley not only didn’t make an appearance outside Fenway; she proceeded to mock Brown for doing so. Not exactly the smartest thing for a politician running in such a sports-crazy state to do. But nothing can be as dumb as calling Schilling a Yankee fan.
For her part, Coakley later claimed she was making a “joke” about Schilling with the remark. Why somebody in the Bay State would make a joke about the player arguably most responsible for the Boston Red Sox’s first World Series Championship in 86 years is beyond me.
Was her jibe a way of claiming that supporting Republican candidates equals supporting the arch-rival New York Yankees? Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey attempted to make the case for such humor, telling MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Monday, “a lot of times, we do confuse the Republicans and the Yankees.” Markey also dissed Schilling for not being from Massachusetts, noting “he has only moved in here since 2004.”
As for the Coakley/Schilling kerfuffle, does it really matter in the scope of things? I say yes, it does. As Schilling told reporters after appearing in a pro-Brown rally Sunday:
“It does reflect on an elected official’s relationship with her constituents. I don’t think that somebody who’s lived here their whole life, not understanding the importance of the prominence of the sports teams in this city, it’s a big deal to people,” he said.
“I think it’s another sign of her aloofness, and just the fact that she’s very out of touch, I think, with the people.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time a Massachusetts politician made a sports-related gaffe. The late Ted Kennedy once referred to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as “Mike McGwire” and “Sammy Sooser.” John Kerry once talked he also called Green Bay’s Lambeau Field “Lambert Field. Even worse, Kerry once talked about a Red Sox player named “Manny Ortez.”
But messing with a Boston legend is much worse than mispronouncing his name. And it cost Coakley dearly at the polls Tuesday.
The Patchwork Nation map comparing the most recent unemployment rates in Massachusetts with those of a year ago shows climbs across the board. But if you compare Tuesday’s election results with the 2008 presidential election results, one thing stands out: the counties with the biggest jumps in unemployment were hardest on Ms. Coakley.
Compared with candidate Obama, Coakley did worst in the six counties where unemployment rose by more than 3 percentage points in the last year. In each of those counties, she got 16 percentage points less than Obama did in 2008.
Coakley lost votes in every county in the state compared with Obama in 2008. Unemployment is up in every county as well. That can’t be a comfort to Democrats.
Barack Obama rode to victory in 2008 on the strength of the Patchwork community known as the “Monied ’Burbs,” the wealthy, mostly suburban counties in and around big metro areas. They have been battlegrounds in recent elections, but Obama won them by some 11-percentage points nationally.
So how did Coakley do in those communities?
Massachusetts is a tricky state in which to answer that question. There are so many colleges and universities in the state that many suburban counties also fall in the “Campus and Careers” community type. But there are four counties in and around Boston that hold many voters and might be thought of as “ ’Burbs”: Suffolk, Middlesex, Essex, and Norfolk.
Coakley won only two of them – and lost the other two badly. That is arguably where she lost this race and where Brown won it.
For Democrats, that may be a troubling sign going into 2010. Those counties are home to many swing congressional districts that will be key to the balance of power in the next Congress. That has ramifications on everything from healthcare reform to changes in immigration policy.
So where does that leave “the political environment” in early 2010?
Right now the state of the national economy is fragile. What we hear repeatedly from people in different Patchwork Nation communities around the country is: “We have not seen a recovery here, yet.”
That would seem to point to a good chance for Republicans to be the “agents of change” for 2010. But for how long? Tuesday made clear that voters won’t hesitate to pull the other lever when they are unhappy.
Food for thought.
See you tomorrow.