Analysts and party strategists said Tuesday’s crushing loss was the result of simmering frustration with the country’s direction – more so, they said, than a single issue like health care reform or campaign missteps on the ground.
Before election day even dawned, shell-shocked Democrats were already asking how their firm grip on the U.S. Senate race had slipped through their fingers like sand.
Analysts and party strategists said Tuesday’s crushing loss was the result of simmering frustration with a host of economic issues that finally boiled over – more so, they said, than opposition to a single issue like health care legislation or campaign missteps.
Within minutes after Martha Coakley conceded the race, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fired off an e-mail saying he wouldn’t “sugarcoat” what happened. Among the lessons, he said, was the “need to redouble our efforts on the economy.”
“If people look back on this election and think the answer to why it was so close can be found in whether Martha Coakley took the days off around Christmas, then they’d be missing the big point,” said Weymouth resident Paul Watanabe, a political analyst at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
Wall Street bailouts, soaring unemployment, the federal stimulus program and concerns about whether the health care bill is affordable drove the state’s crucial independents over to the Scott Brown camp, along with some registered Democrats.
Massachusetts – which sent its last Republican senator to Washington in 1972 – hasn’t been a battleground state. But in the past three weeks, an oddly timed January special election morphed into a November test run. When early polls showed Brown had a chance, it sparked excitement from groups nationwide that swiftly mobilized.
“To believe this is simply a self-contained election played by folks who are only residents of the Bay State would be wrong,” Watanabe said.
But while political observers say the influence of outside support and money can’t be discounted, they also agree that Brown had a clear anti-tax, fiscally conservative message that resonated across the state.
Coakley’s campaign also suffered from perceptions that she didn’t work hard enough and that she felt she was entitled to a win.
“She and her advisers believed the best strategy was to run a neutral campaign that didn’t create waves,” said Marshfield resident Phil Johnston, former chairman of the state Democratic Party and a veteran lawmaker, who faulted Coakley for not tapping into voter frustration over pocketbook issues.
Kevin McCarthy, chairman of the South Shore Democratic Caucus, said Coakley “should have been a lot more active out there and engaging voters. ... That was a mistake on her part.”
Brown’s emphasis on his pickup truck and its increasing mileage, as he talked about hauling it across the state, clicked with voters. And it provided a sharp contrast to what critics have described as Coakley’s “coronation strategy.”
“People in Massachusetts want you to work hard for their vote,” said Hull resident Charles Manning, former chairman of the state Republican Party.
Nancy Reardon may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.