Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No Breakthroughs in Senate Race

The candidate who gets the most loyal voters to the polls on December 8th wins. Polls to date say the Dem who'll run in the January 19th final for Ted Kennedy's seat will be AG Martha Coakley. For the life of me, I can't understand why. She needs to show more to get my support.
Personal whine: We at Left Ahead! had hoped and tried to have her on a podcast, but requests to numerous people from her campaign staff as well as direct appeals to her have been ignored for many weeks. Each of us will have to judge whether that says more about the insignificance of LA to her, of her fear of any possible misstep or exposure or her campaign's decision on how to mete her time. Regardless, we got U.S. Rep Mike Capuano but not her for your listening and analysis.
In last evening's final scheduled TV-broadcast debate on GBH's Greater Boston, we got too much Emily Rooney but still plenty of the four candidates. The style of the five should have given voters all the info they had lacked before. Despite Rooney's waste of a lot of time with silly, parochial questions, the candidates showed their stuff.

For one stumble through the woods, Rooney demonstrated her provincialism by pounding on Rhode Island R.C. Bishop Thomas Tobin's demand that U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy not take communion because he favored women's choice including abortion. She asked the hypothetical about what the candidates would do if their local prelate wrote the same letter to them. Not only is that out-of-state, but it has little other relevance to this race or the role of the Senator.

As an Episcopal, Steve Pagliuca was obviously delighted to be above this manufactured dust up. Then all four of them smeared rhetorical oatmeal on the wall — their religion is between God and themselves.

The glib Globe, whose reporters seem to be moderately favoring Coakley in articles, ran coverage of this Q&A as though it were the key part of last evening's debate-like-object. If you have any doubt it was not, do watch the show at GBH.

Rooney also alluded to two heavy recent pieces in the Globe, one slamming Capuano and one Coakley. The lengthy profile of Capuano made him out from the lead sentence to be a potential dog killer, someone you'd not want to meet on the streets of Somerville at night. He did a pretty good job last evening at turning that around, referring to himself as the reasoned, yet passionate candidate. Speaking of Congress, he added, "The lack of passion to me shows a disconnect with the real lives of regular people."

The Globe also broke with their normally gentle and even effusive coverage of Coakley. While many voters and others call her cold and opaque, today's article typically said of her answers that "the attorney general mostly stayed above the fray." Instead, I saw her has far less involved and substantial than the others, on a par with the spongy Pagliuca.

Yet to its credit, the Globe did run an article on how she gave eventually convicted pedophile priest John Geoghan a bye. When she was Middlesex DA in charge of child abuse cases, she did not aggressively prosecute him as an abuser. To this day and last evening, she claims she didn't have the evidence and wouldn't change anything. To those who would say gathering such evidence was clearly part of her job if she had strong reason to suspect the evidence was there, she says she did the right thing. That he was protected and shuffled around parishes by the R.C. hierarchy, while abusing boys all along, seems coincidental to her.

Oddly, Rooney brought this up and gave Coakley a chance to try to shift blame to the church. She (and the Globe) did not note that this seems a similar pattern to AG Coakley's decisions not to go after corruption in local government, which turned out into federal indictments of a House speaker, a senator and a city councilor.

The three other candidates did not ask her why voters should think she'd be a strong Senator when she seemed a hands-off DA and AG. Media wisdom has said that they avoid acting like three male bullies beating up on the woman.

For my occasional shallowness, I found myself distracted by Rooney's appearance and mannerisms. Of substance, she not only asked some nothing questions, but she repeatedly spoke over the candidates while not moderating the discussion meaningfully. How nice for her that she thinks her points are more important than those of the candidates, but she wasted a lot of time cutting off candidates as soon as they began answering her questions. That was exasperating.
Petty aside: At the risk of reading like Cintra Wilson, I think Rooney needs a makeover and some advice. My shallowness overwhelmed me as Rooney's purse-lipped appearance and clumsy behavior dominated. Most obviously, with apologies to Sarah Palin, Rooney didn't go rogue, but she did overdo rouge. Her clown makeup goes on top of skin that looks like she spent her life on a fishing boat or in a tobacco field. Moreover, she wore a plunging blouse that exposed far too much flesh that looked like it had lichen growing on it. As a blond and fair skinned (think pink), I empathize a bit, but she should be more self-aware.
I don't know how many folk listened last night or will head to the Greater Bostons site. There's a fair chance few viewers would change their mind, but the show might help some of those 50% or more undecided. Some might pick a candidate and others might decide to vote.

My own takeaways from the show, by the alpha order in which they sat, include:
  • Capuano —In appeals to both mind and emotion, Capuano owned the stage. That may or may not play well. I find him refreshingly candid as well as highly principled. Others seem put off by his passion.
  • Coakley —She remained too cool and too evasive. She liked the trope that her favorite animal is a giraffe (as is mine), that she sticks her neck out. Listening to what she said were risks, I envision a turtle instead, with very little exposure. I didn't know her any better after this session than before.
  • Khazei —Set aside his flares of Ralph Nader style self-righteousness about society's duties, he was both highly reasoned and personable, a likely good dinner companion. He clearly likes to lay out and follow road maps to policy destinations. It remains surprising that he carries the red lantern in polls.
  • Pagliuca —Stayed pretty much a me-too candidate. His big effort was to contrast himself with Coakley and Capuano in how he'd vote on health reform even if it contained abortion-funding restrictions (he'd pass this essential bill). He seems like a good soldier, which isn't enough. Also, his admission that the recession impacted him only through knowing some people (unlike him) not thriving didn't help.
If you turned in liking your candidate's style, nothing much happened yesterday for you. The cool giraffe was there, as was the impassioned fighter. On the other side, a policy wonk and some rich guy roil the waters, likely helping Coakley, who polls report may have 10% gonad voters supporting her because of gender.

We don't have any measure of voters who go with one of the three men because they would rather not have a woman in the office. We can reasonably surmise that it is fewer than Coakley's gender-driven supporters. She will have at least that edge if her candidacy gets them to the polls in two weeks.

The U.S. Senate could certainly use more women, as it would benefit from more members of color. There's no way to vote in this race for someone with Capuano's decisiveness and voting record who meets those other criteria.

We'll likely not get another chance at the candidates. The wild card is whether Coakley answers the 18 questions journalist/blogger Bill Dinsmore collected and provided. She skipped in and out of a coffee shop in North Adams, not taking any live questions. He sent that list, which should be to her campaign's liking — they can squirrel away and spin and spin. Her press secretary and political director got the list yesterday. They may be batch processing all 18 and take a couple of days, but here's betting the answers are squishy. I hope she (they) prove me wrong and, to invert Gertrude Stein, there's some there there.

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