How Brown won

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 22, 2010

Brown denounced the deal and the back room, corrupt politics it represented. Coakley, who had previously been aghast at the anti-abortion compromise that secured passage in the House, praised the Senate for its work.

For the generally conservative, largely Catholic "Finneran Democrats" of Massachusetts, the message was clear: Coakley condemns those who seek to save life, and embraces those who cheat the taxpayer.

Republicans close to the campaign almost immediately began pointing to the crystallizing effect of that development; I never heard a single Democratic insider express awareness that it was even an issue, up to and including last night at the dour Coakley election gathering at the Copley Sheraton.

Man about Brown
Selling Brown — a wealthy lawyer who has held political office for the past 18 years — as the champion of that populist, anti-politician cause may seem a stretch, but again, his strategists were the people responsible for the packaging and marketing of Willard Mitt Romney.

They did their job with Brown brilliantly, turning the well-to-do political hack suburbanite into a pickup-driving man of the people. And Brown, like Romney, is an outstanding candidate: disciplined, hard-working, and malleable.

The team was also prepared, from the training of the presidential campaign, to rapidly turn everything the Coakley campaign did to their advantage — and the campaign repeatedly played right into their hands.

When she failed to actively barnstorm the state — and later, when she derided the notion of shaking voters' hands in front of Fenway Park — they painted her as arrogant and out-of-touch. When she launched the campaign's first negative ad, they called her out for playing the politics of destruction. When she went to Washington to raise money, they labeled her a tool of the lobbyists and special interests. When she called in the help of prominent local and national Democrats, they called it machine politics. (Those insisting that Michael Capuano would have beaten Brown handily should consider how easy it would have been to caricature him as an insider, back-room, Democratic-machine, professional pol.)

By keeping the focus firmly on these symbols of dark politics, the Brown campaign defined the race around mood, rather than issues.

Although the national audience, and the core supporters packing the Park Plaza ballroom, care deeply about the issues, Brown nimbly straddled them in the campaign, to avoid alienating any potential mood voters (again, not unlike Obama).

He was against overturning Roe v. Wade, but for any pro-life law that might actually come before him in a Senate vote. He vowed to vote against the current health-care-reform bill, but professed support for legislating universal coverage. He demanded a reduction in the national deficit, but offered no cost-reduction plans. He opposed whatever economy-boosting measures the Obama administration has taken, but proposed none of his own other than an across-the-board tax cut that nobody believes would ever be seriously considered. (He took an unequivocal stand on just one issue, a Bush/Cheney approach to terrorism, including escalation of the war in Afghanistan, denial of rights to detainees, and use of torture, including water-boarding. I would guess that their polling showed Coakley was vulnerable on this front.)

Blind-sided
Coakley's team, just like Clinton's in Iowa, never saw this strategy coming until too late. Neither did the Democratic operatives who were denigrating the Coakley team yesterday — even as they tried to pull her lifeless campaign over the finish line.

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