Early last week, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government announced suddenly that Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, would speak at a forum that Friday afternoon. Odd, for such a prominent figure to add an unscheduled event to her schedule, taking her away from Washington during the busy last weeks of the year's legislative session.
But things seldom happen by chance — not when there's an important election race going on. The Kennedy School forum was, in fact, just an excuse to bring Pelosi to Massachusetts during the Senate campaign of her trusted lieutenant, Congressman Michael Capuano (as those involved with his campaign admit). Pelosi was going to endorse Capuano anyway, but it brought the Capuano campaign a lot more attention in the form of a press conference in the Omni Parker House than it would have as just another Beltway announcement.
The congressman's campaign insiders also acknowledge that the gender of that prominent pol flying in for a news-grabbing endorsement was not happenstance, either.
The Capuano campaign is making a determined effort to convince female voters that, in the Democratic primary, they needn't feel obligated to vote for Attorney General Martha Coakley — who would be the first female US Senator ever elected in Massachusetts. The Pelosi endorsement was, in part, a message to those women that, if such a high-profile female is supporting one of Coakley's opponents, so can you.
Pelosi was hardly the first example, and won't be the last. Earlier last week, Capuano held a large rally at the Copley Park Plaza, which featured a surprise (read: attempt to generate news coverage) endorsement by Kitty Dukakis, the former first lady of the commonwealth.
And when the campaign needs to provide a surrogate for the candidate, it invariably sends a woman: at times, it's been talk-show host (and former state representative) Marjorie Clapprood, and recently, defending Capuano on NECN's Broadside, it was former state senator Lois Pines.
All of this is quite deliberate — one advisor to the campaign even says that it was no coincidence that Pelosi's press conference was held in a room named for a woman (Louisa May Alcott).
But Capuano is stopping well short of making the gender play explicit. Neither Pelosi nor Dukakis mentioned gender in their endorsements, and the campaign has decided not to hold a "women for Capuano" group-endorsement event.
He will, instead, put women out front and hope that their gender speaks for itself. So expect to see plenty of Capuano endorsers, such as state representatives Marie St. Fleur and Kathi-Anne Reinstein, and State Senator Gale Candaras, at campaign events and on TV. Just call him LL Cool Mike.
Follow the money
When it comes to the national news cycle, the four Democratic candidates are often at the whims of another female figure: Lady Luck. If the media is suddenly focused on, say, Afghanistan — as it was last week, after President Barack Obama delayed his plans to send more troops to that Central Asian nation — the candidates have to be ready for it.
Or, at least be prepared to spend a lot of money to change the topic.