Voter Enthusiasm a Problem for Coakley, Polls Suggest
The bad breaks keep piling up for Martha Coakley in her bid for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, with a string of gaffes causing her problems, Democratic strategists predicting the worst and the latest polls suggesting the state attorney general's campaign is missing the kind of enthusiasm that Republican Scott Brown has generated.
But while Democrats are trying to portray Brown as a shill for corporate interests, the Republican state senator has been able to project the image of the people's candidate, driving around in his truck and shaking hands while Coakley spurned such shoe-leather tactics.
Coakley's low-key approach to the campaign has drawn recriminations from fellow Democrats who are stunned the race is so close on the eve of Tuesday's special election to fill the seat held for decades by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
"She let it become a personality contest and that was a mistake," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. "Some of us complained about it and we think it's turned around.""We are in deep s--- if we lose on Tuesday," a Democratic operative said.
A new poll out of Public Policy Polling on Monday underscored the depth of Coakley's challenge.
The poll showed Brown leading 51-46 overall, 64-32 among independents and winning 20 percent of the vote from those who backed Obama in 2008. On the flip side, the survey showed Coakley pulling just 4 percent of the vote from those who backed John McCain, in the 2008 presidential race.
And the poll reflected the enthusiasm gap from which Coakley suffers. Eighty percent of Brown supporters said they were "very excited" about Tuesday's election, while only 60 percent of Coakley supporters felt the same way.
A Suffolk University/7News poll last week showed Brown leading 50-46 percent, with 57 percent viewing Brown favorably. Just 49 percent viewed Coakley favorably in that poll.
In a potentially telling moment, Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy -- Ted Kennedy's son -- forgot Coakley's name while speaking to reporters after the Obama rally Sunday. According to an account in The National Journal, he referred to Coakley as "Marcia" every time.
Curt Schilling, the hugely popular former Red Sox pitcher who supports Brown, told Fox News on Monday that Coakley is having a hard time connecting to voters. Coakley "doesn't know who they are, what they want -- that's the biggest thing to me," he said.
Schilling has been on Coakley's case ever since she made a dismissive remark about Fenway Park in a newspaper interview earlier this month. But she made things worse in a radion interview over the weekend when she accused Schilling of being a Yankees fan. Missteps like this may seem trivial to observers outside New England, but misrepresenting Schilling's team allegiance in Red Sox Nation is no laughing matter -- and it could have devastating consequences not only for Coakley, but for the Democratic agenda.
National interest in the race is high since a Brown win would break the Democrats' 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate. This could imperil legislation ranging from health care reform to financial regulatory reform to a sweeping energy package. Plus some Democrats worry that it will have a domino effect for them in the congressional midterm elections in November.
It doesn't help Coakley that, according to polls, Massachusetts voters are widely opposed to the Democrats' national health care plan -- in a state that has a universal health care plan of its own. The Public Policy Polling survey showed 48 percent oppose the plan, while 40 percent support it. The poll of 1,231 likely voters was taken from Jan. 16-17. It had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.
Heavyweight Democrats are trying to drive out voters to the polls by warning that Brown will stall their agenda in Washington if he wins. "If you were fired up in the last election, I need you more fired up in this election," Obama told the crowd Sunday.