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  1. “Good public servants” don’t necessarily make good candidates.  Martha Coakley has been referred to by supporters as a “good public servant” and smart person.  She may very well be (I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her) but that doesn’t make her a good candidate.  She came across as a lackluster campaigner, a follower of the party line, and someone unable, or unwilling, to articulate any original ideas.  In a word she was uninspiring.
  2. Primaries are a lousy way to pick candidates.  The Democratic primary campaign was yawner despite four quite distinct personalities running to represent the party.  And the least dynamic candidate won.  Why?  Because the primary is dominated by local party operatives and they almost invariably vote for the anointed candidate (in this case Coakley).  In addition, the political uniformity that usually pervades local party ranks forces challengers to spout remarkably similar positions (although this election might have set a new record for candidates agreeing on almost every position).
  3. Voters are real people who make real decisions.  This election might also have set a new record for political complacency (arrogance?).  I suppose it’s easy to become complacent when you have a 30+ point lead in the polls.  But, really, you don’t think voters notice when the candidate assumes the position of senator-in-waiting?  Last I checked we still live in a democracy and voters have the final say.  To make matters worse, Coakley’s demeanor/style conveyed the perception that she could take it or leave it.  Maybe not a true reflection of her desire but it’s the way she came across (see point #1 above).
  4. Negative ads don’t work all that well (at least as a desperation measure).  The last minute barrage of special interest-sponsored ads for Coakley also set a new record…for desperation!  As I’m watching the ads on TV my jaw just kept dropping lower and lower.  And one negative ad would follow right after the other.  I can’t help wondering whether Coakley herself didn’t wince every time she saw one.  They certainly didn’t match her image up until that point.
  5. Betting against last minute Barack Obama interventions (Olympics, Carbon Treaty, and, now, MA Senate election) has become a sure thing.  Wow!  I have only one piece of advice for Obama.  Next time someone calls – or sends you a note on your Blackberry – to ask for help to bail them out don’t pick up the phone!  Or explain to them that, as much as you’d like to help, you have a crisis to deal with in (fill in the blank…Haiti, Afghanistan, Wall Street…) and can’t leave your post.
  6. A relative unknown with a winning personality, a can-do attitude, and a clever campaign is a good formula for a come from behind victory.  What a campaign!  This one will be studied for some time to come.  What else can I say?  Regardless of political persuasion you have to tip your hat to Scott Brown and his team.
  7. “All politics is local.” (OK, Tip O’Neil said it first.  How ironic!)  You have to get out there Martha!  You may be a well known attorney general but that doesn’t mean people really know you.  People vote emotionally for logical reasons.  In other words, they need to justify their vote based on where they stand on the issues but they are voting for a person and how they feel about that person.
  8. Massachusetts has become more diverse.  This is another way of saying that the old Irish-Democratic machine is losing its grip on the state.  I know it’s been going on for awhile – the old machine certainly didn’t make Mitt Romney governor – but this election is another nail in the coffin.  One could argue it was only somewhat sustained until now through the force of Ted Kennedy’s personality and the aura of the Kennedy name.  If you come from that world you can blame your loss of power on immigration and the homogenizing force of the suburbs. 
  9. It’s the economy, stupid!  I went to one of the Democratic primary debates and I was surprised how little the economy was discussed.  Coakley, in particular, was more interested in touting her record as a defender of human rights and civil liberties than providing any original ideas on getting people back to work.  I got the feeling she was just where she was most comfortable – serving as Attorney General of Massachusetts.  The only Democratic primary candidate that made the economy the centerpiece of his campaign was Steve Pagliuca and he had little chance of winning over the party faithful (see point #2 above).
  10. And, yes, we are worried about what Congress has cooked up on healthcare.  Do you really know what’s in the bill?  If so, drop me a note and let me know why I should want it.  I’m not a reactionary on the subject but, quite frankly, I don’t have any faith that Congress and the army of Capital Hill lobbyists is capable of cooking up a healthcare bill that is rational and cost-effective.  (If you’re interested in my position go here.)  Brown cleverly exploited our unease about the bill while Coakley was stuck touting the party line.

So, there you have it.  Democracy works.

This is a special edition blog.  I went to a forum for the candidates in the Democratic primary to fill Ted Kennedy’s vacant U.S. Senate seat.  For those that don’t live in Massachusetts this is essentially the race to determine the next U.S. Senator from the state.  The Republican nominee has about as much chance as a Democratic nominee in Texas.

Those who have followed this blog know that I’ve come out in favor of Steve Pagliuca.  But you also that I’m not an ideologue and I’m more interested in the individual than the posturing.  So let me try to give you an objective assessment of the forum.  The format was that each candidate was brought on stage separately (it was not a debate) and they were questioned for 20 minutes by two moderators.  After the questioning the candidates were given five minutes to make a closing statement.  Here’s my assessment of the candidates in the order they were presented:

Steve Pagliuca.  Steve is anything but a politician and it shows in his delivery.  It’s not that he was terribly uncomfortable on a stage but it was clear he was more accustomed to arguing his case in front of business colleagues than creating excitement about his positions.  But he held up well and he made some very specific recommendations with regards to helping the Massachusetts economy.  My confidence in his ability to make good decisions for both the Commonwealth (of Massachusetts) and the country – particularly as it relates to economic issues – was reinforced.

Martha Coakley.  Ouch.  This is the person who has raised the most money and is the purported front runner?  She is without question a one issue candidate.  And the issue – civil rights – is not the the most pressing issue of our time.  Indeed, she had little of use to say about the economy or global conflict.  I came away with one thought – maybe I should start an “anybody but Martha” campaign instead of supporting a specific candidate.

Mike Capuano.  I liked Mike.  He was probably the most personable of the candidates.  And, very uncharacteristically for a politician, he admitted his mistakes.  Unfortunately, two of the mistakes got us into the mess we’re in today.  He voted for one of the derivatives deregulation laws and he voted for legislation to loosen mortgage lending rules.  In other words, he exposed himself as the worst kind of liberal – one that takes a strong ideological stand but doesn’t necessarily understand the broader implications of his votes.  But he knows how to warm an audience.

Alan Khazei.  Wow!  It wasn’t a debate but he still won.  He was without a doubt the most passionate, most articulate speaker.  And he was the most specific in his policy prescriptions.  I really liked his view and prescriptions for the healthcare crisis.  He was the only one who specifically noted that healthcare reform required tort reform.  And he also made reference to the need for better approach to prevention.  He gets it.  I need to understand more about his other positions but he has definitely piqued my interest.  If the vote was held right after the forum I might have voted for him.

There really wasn’t a lot to distinguish the candidates from an ideological perspective.  They were all liberal Democrats.  But there was a difference in their backgrounds and accomplishments.  The two outsiders – Pagliuca and Khazei – we’re highly accomplished in different, but both impressive, ways.  The two insiders – Coakley and Capuano – were your typical political class candidates.  You got the feeling that their quest was akin to coporate insiders reaching for the next rung in the ladder (although I can’t help feeling that Coakley has reached her ceiling as Massachusetts Attorney General).

If you were planning to vote in the primary then you owe it to yourself and your fellow citizens to learn more about the candidates.  If you weren’t going to vote you might want to reconsider your position.   It’s a political race that counts.