Democrats Dilemma: Might Martha Coakley Faint During Debate?

victorian-lady-faintingCould Martha Coakley capture the Democratic gubernatorial election only to get the vapors while debating Charlie Baker and faint dead away like some delicate nineteenth century Victorian spinster?

As my colleague Professor Ubertaccio wrote in Martha Coakley might “unravel at any moment” it is panic season among some Democratic insiders. Is Coakley such an inept politician that she singlehandedly blew the 2010 race? Was it winnable or did conditions she couldn’t control contribute to the defeat? Did some other Democrat play a role? (I nominate Barack Obama). And is she heading for the fainting couch, a victim of female hysteria?

The takeaway from Frank Phillips’s September 13 Boston Globe article Trepidation remains over Martha Coakley is that Democrats sure do think highly of  Coakley as AG but are aghast that she would seek the corner office.

Insider-in-the-know narratives tend to focus on personality over more important factors. But some conditions existed in January 2010 such as a disastrous economy that many blamed on President Barack Obama, who was suffering from low job approval.

So let’s consider some findings from 1, 2, 3, Many Tea Parties: A Closer Look at the 2010 Massachusetts Senate Race, by my UMass Boston colleagues Tom Ferguson and Jie Chen.  They argue that the 2010 special featured decreased turnout in many low-income Democratic voting towns. Ferguson and Chen contended that the “Obama administration’s unwillingness to face down the banks and slowness in dealing with the recession have demoralized and outraged the party’s electoral base.” At least one poll showed Republican Scott Brown winning union households. Ferguson and Chen attribute that anomaly to the president’s insistence on taxing medical benefits that unions had collectively bargained. Polls showed Obama hovering around 50% approval (sometimes under 50%) in Massachusetts.

So it wasn’t a terrific year to be running as a Democrat, even with the built-in advantages the party has in this state.

Martha Coakley did not run a great race in 2010. Most times in Massachusetts we have a Democratic primary then sit around waiting for the swearing-in. That’s about what the AG did and few “insiders” counseled her otherwise.

How bad a politician is Martha Coakley? Well let’s recall the primary fight in 2009 when she absolutely turned Congressman Michael Capuano inside out on the abortion question. She announced that she would not vote for Obamacare if it contained a provision restricting federal funding for abortion services. His political instincts honed to razor sharpness, Capuano attacked Coakley. Until he fell in line behind her position the next day.

We are now awaiting Congressman Capuano’s announcement of whether he will enter the gubernatorial primary. Part of his media narrative will be Harvard smart plus Somerville street tough. Maybe at some point we’ll be reminded that in 2009 he got beat by a girl.

Then the Democrats can go back to worrying that their nominee might be overcome by the Victorian swoon.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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