Sunday, August 17, 2014

Massachusetts Primary Update - the Coakley Juggernaut

Hi all,

Been far too long since I have written and a quick recap is in order.

Although State Treasurer Steve Grossman won the endorsement of the delegates at the State Democratic convention, he continues (as predicted) to lag far behind frontrunner Attorney General Martha Coakley in the weekly polling that the Boston Globe has been running.

The latest Globe poll (August 15) of likely Democratic primary voters shows the following.
Coakley     45
Grossman  21
Berwick    10

The results, showing Coakley holding a comfortable lead, are consistent throughout all of the polling done on this race in the past several months. Grossman and Berwick are still widely unknown, even among likely voters, whilst Coakley with her long tenure in the AG's office and Senate loss to Brown in 2010 is a known quantity to the majority of Massachusetts residents.

Some of this is due to Grossman's cautious approach and he has made several missteps that will contribute to his probable loss on the September 9 primary.
  • He has failed to parlay his convention endorsement into any sort of momentum. True, summer is a dead season politically, but he has made no real headway to erase his limited exposure and name recognition.
  • Much of the reason for the above is a failure to use his considerable wealth to advertise and promote himself. A third of voters still do not recognize his name while Coakley has over 90% name recognition. He is beginning to advertise now, but I think it is just too little too late. After Labor Day there will be a week's worth of campaigning and he is behind the Eight Ball. Too little too late.
  • Not to be harsh, but Grossman simply is not engaging and/or electrifying as a candidate. The left wing of the party is enamored of Berwick and as Grossman and Coakley have similar policy positions, he is having trouble creating real distinctions. Passion and message matter - recall Governor Patrick was considered an also-ran once, but used his tremendous political skills and ability to connect with voters to his advantage.
  • Grossman is also in the difficult position of having to be careful - if he attacks Coakley too aggressively, he may damage the party's chance to win in November and also risks being portrayed as a sexist. In Massachusetts, identity politics really do matter and Grossman risks a lot if he is seen as being "too mean-spirited". However, if he does not go after her and knock down her ratings, he will lose the race. An unenviable position.
Martha Coakley, on the other hand, is coasting - this may be a potential problem in November, but is working thus far.
  • Inevitability - she has been the frontrunner throughout. Many voters want to be with a perceived winner and not waste their vote (hence Berwick's poor showing). The media coverage of the race is fueling this perception.
  • As I have mentioned before, the "sisterhood" is a huge factor and advantage. Note that Coakley's first television ad talks about the "old boy network" - this is politically smart and activates her core female supports. Also, a majority of Democratic primary voters will be female. The potential history-making event of the first elected female governor in Massachusetts cannot be emphasized enough. It is a key factor for these activists who donate their money, time, and enthusiasm.
  • Coakley is also well known statewide and will take advantage of some of the sympathy that she was able to garner after her Senate loss. Her favorability among all voters is relatively high (53% in the latest poll). All in all, a good place to be three weeks out from the primary.
One note about Donald Berwick - the left-wing Party activists like/adore him and propelled him into a strong third place finish at the convention. But he is a literally focusing only on the issues of single-payer healthcare and opposition to casinos. Unfortunately for Berwick, he has little charisma, money, and coverage (over 70% of likely voters do not know who he is). The support of activists in Cambridge, Brookline, and Amherst will not be enough for a primary win...

I am standing by my prediction that Coakley wins the September 9 primary comfortably, although I suspect the race will close a bit after Labor Day. Ironically, Berwick is hurting Grossman as any anti-Coakley vote is being split. Some in the Party believe Coakley may be a weaker general election candidate due to her previously illustrated lack of campaigning skills, but this will not be enough to stop her inevitable nomination.

OK- some numbers for September. I predict (on a short limb)

Coakley    47 (the juggernaut rolls - she wins Middlesex county convincingly and wins or places a close second in most communities)
Grossman 38 (statewide support, but just not enough - will win many blue collar communities though)
Berwick   15 (wins Amherst and maybe Newton and does well in liberal suburbs)

Coakley vs Baker (Baker will dispatch Mark Fisher on September 9 with little fanfare) will be a good race - I still give the edge to Coakley, but once we get into September and past the primaries the campaign will take on an entirely new theme. Stay tuned!


The Prof