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Our One Hundredth: Beyond the Ghost of Martha’s Campaign…

Attorney General Martha Coakley (image via wikipedia)

Attorney General Martha Coakley (image via wikipedia)

As can be expected, the national media and to a far lesser extent the Massachusetts media, have made the special Senate election to replace John Kerry a horse race or even Martha II.  Despite history and solid evidence that the factors which elected Scott Brown in 2010 are absent, media commentators describe the race as if history is repeating.  This happens even as the national media had a feeding frenzy over bad press for the Republican.

Rather unfairly, the press and pundits, both national and some state, have called Markey’s campaign uninspired or downright bad drawing Martha Coakley comparisons.  The campaign has not been Elizabeth Warren 2.0, either.  However, after Gabriel Gomez became the opponent, there is a sense, that they have not fought this battle like they fought the primary because Gomez was, and remains, such a mess of a candidate.

That does not mean that Markey is pulling a Coakley.  To the contrary, the time he is spending fundraising, and more critically, repairing bonds with unions, is exactly the opposite of what Attorney General Martha Coakley did after she won the Democratic primary three and a half years ago.  Coakley went on vacation, and then got caught up in a national political narrative in a race against a skilled, if not particularly relevant, longtime Beacon Hill pol.

Cong. Ed Markey (via wikipedia)

The problem may be the atmospherics, a term of art for political flacks, that describes how things appear to be going from 35,000 feet.  But just like you cannot read a car’s license with the naked eye looking out the window of a 737, this type of analysis has a number of obvious problems.

It is true that the Markey campaign is mostly targeting voters who will vote all the time as opposed to targeting voters who only vote in presidential years, if ever, as Warren did.  Moreover, the compressed timeline makes a number of organizing strategies that Warren employed almost impossible.  Gomez is almost certainly doing the same.

That has been dispiriting to some, but in fact the mechanics are working and continue to work nonetheless.  Many of the on the ground activists have been working hard, turning out voters even in the relatively foregone-conclusion primary at the end of April.

SEIU 1199 Backed Markey in the Primary and, like many unions, will be part of the General Election ground game. (via Twitter)

In the lead up to that primary, Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, whose district includes many of Springfield’s Latinos, endorsed Lynch.  This set up a schism between her and SEIU 1199, whose Community Action group is also influential within the city’s Latino quarters.  In the end, however, it was a never really much of a contest, as Lynch lost every precinct in Ward 1, the heart of the city’s Hispanic community, some badly.  No doubt SEIU can claim credit for that.

That particular anecdote may be as much about Coakley-Rivera’s true political influence as it is about SEIU’s work.  However, it underscores one important difference between now and the Coakely-Brown race.  Nobody is napping.

Gabriel Gomez (via wikipedia)

(Indeed if the Coakley-Rivera situation is any indication, Gomez’s own Latino heritage is just as unlikely to sway those of Latin American extraction to himself.  The decision of the Republican party to coalesce around Gomez is more evidence of its patronizing view toward minorities.   It is an insult to the intelligence of any Latino voter will vote just because Gomez is a Hispanophone.  Certainly black Republicans, like Herman Cain and Tim Scott have not won the GOP any meaningful African-American support.)

Elsewhere the campaign has actively sought to pickup the pieces from the primary, something Coakley did not do.  Stephen Lynch, whom Markey defeated in the primary, has fully backed his colleague in the general.  Indeed, some Lynch staffers, including one in Western Massachusetts, have joined Markey’s campaign.

Nevertheless, the noise from the punditocracy and commentariat have been sufficient that any slipup of Markey’s campaign will be treated as the death knell.  That could be changing as The Washington Post’s The Fix blog switched to speculating whether a narrow Markey win may entice Brown to mount a comeback next year.  New polling may bury the neck-and-neck narrative further.

The Debates during the Primary were not a high point for Gomez, left, with Michael Sullivan and Dan Winslow (via WBUR)

To that end, it still leaves the debates as crucial.  Gomez, armed with a fresh round of dissembling, has expectations so pathetically low that he will meet them unless he lights the building on fire.  Markey, by comparison could have an awesome night and still be seen by the chattering classes as delivering a middling performance.  Add to that, Markey has to avoid appearing to coast through debates in light of whatever polling advantage he has.

Markey’s campaign could afford to step it up a bit, especially since the commonwealth could be deluged with conservative attack ads at a moment’s notice.  His team should know better, too.  A few of the principals are alums of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s campaign last year.  His grossly substandard opponent was kept alive, if not brought to victory, by an endless influx of money.  The same could reanimate Gomez, too.

At the same time, it may be that the Markey campaign’s internal polling is the source of their decision to leave the race in a holding pattern.  Still, if there is one thing Markey can do to pull away it is to talk more about what is troubling so many: jobs.  Nothing Gomez can say on this front can be taken seriously without Romney comparisons.  Markey does not have this handicap.

Lynch, left, and Markey have apparently mended fences better, or at a minimum sooner than Coakley did in 2009-10 (via Facebook)

President Obama’s stability in polling is tied to an improving economy and Massachusetts has led the pack in job creation.  However, this has been uneven in the commonwealth and a particular emphasis on this front in Western, Central and Southeastern Massachusetts could be critical for Markey, especially in terms of turning out the vote.

The temptation to step out in front of these issues, however, may be very small and with good reason.  As David Bernstein noted today, Gomez’s problems run fairly deep.  Aside from the back and forth on whether or not he is a Republican, Gomez has only offered a paucity of solutions for the toughest problems we face as a nation.  More often than not, he has only offered his beliefs, but nothing he would act on.  Indeed, Gomez has been such a disaster that some on Blue Mass Group have practically become nostalgic for Scott Brown’s political skills.

On the other hand, as long as the race continues to be about nonsense, that only benefit Markey who has, to Gomez’s dismay, been talking substantively about the issues.  As WGBH reporter Adam Reilly tweeted yesterday, any day spent arguing about whether Gomez is a Republican is a win for Ed Markey.

If Markey needs any more evidence, today’s poll from New England College shows Markey ahead by twelve.  The Markey campaign is probably where they want to be right now, given the national media noise and relatively even-handed state press coverage.  But the time to rest will be the day after the election and not a minute before.