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October 23, 2014

The national media “covering” the Massachusetts gubernatorial election have a narrative and their sticking to it.  Never mind that it is both lazy and unoriginal.

Three hit pieces in a row make one wonder if the national media has an even greater interest than the state Republican Party in ensuring a Martha Coakley defeat.

My colleague, Professor Cunningham, took Politico to task last week by noting that “Rather than a serious look at a very close race for the only office that Republicans can actually contest in Massachusetts (remember 1990 – 2006?) the piece contains a series of cheap jokes at Coakley’s expense. So let me say I love journalism and depend on it; but some articles just make my heart sink.”

Given his sunken heart, I would advise Mo to stay far away from the coverage given to this race by the Washington Post and Talking Points Memo.

 From the Post’s lede: “One of the most famous losers in recent U.S. politics is back on the campaign trail in Massachusetts.”

The piece goes on in a parody like account from there.  At a minimum it notes that Charlie Baker is also a pretty big “loser” though it omits a more significant one, the loser so grand in 2012 that he was forced to decamp to New Hampshire.  Never mind. When trivializing folks as "losers" there's no need to go deep.

Now turn to Talking Points Memo.  It, at least, doesn’t try to out parody the Politico or Post piece but it also cannot resist this opening:

“National Democrats are haunted by memories of Martha Coakley's unforced stumbles and missteps in 2010, which cost them a U.S. Senate seat in one of the country's bluest states.

Four years later, the Massachusetts attorney general might be about to blow another major contest: The race to succeed Deval Patrick as governor.”

These are the pieces that should try our souls. 

Of course, the national media is aided in this narrative by certain members of the Attorney General’s own party who have never been shy about declaring her an ineffective candidate and her campaigns poorly run.  Remember it was Lou DiNatale who declared over a year ago that Coakley spooked Democrats because she could “unravel at any moment.” 

This is the state of the “coverage” of a competitive gubernatorial race in a state of more than 6 million people that is more complex politically than popularly understood.   

Republicans might be gleeful except this type of coverage doesn’t cast their recent heroes, Scott Brown or Charlie Baker, in a particularly flattering light.  Seems all Republican candidates need to do here is ensure they’re lucky enough to run against Martha Coakley.  It must have nothing to do with their own campaigns, policies, and personalities or the national political climate.

Also consider the counter narrative you never read: in a state that has routinely elected Republican Governors, giving one the biggest electoral blowout in gubernatorial history (Weld’s 71% victory in ’94), why isn’t Charlie Baker running away with this? 

Could it be that he squandered his goodwill by losing a winnable race in 2010?  Deval Patrick was the Massachusetts equivalent of the political Walking Dead earlier that year and still Baker lost by more than six points in a state that had just elected Scott Brown.  Is Baker unable to seal the deal this year because he choked four years ago? 

 No and no.  Lucky for Charlie you can’t easily insert the word choke into his last name.

Let’s just posit that this race may well be trending in Charlie Baker’s favor.  It could also break during the last week or weekend.  An insightful Bill Weld said a few weeks back that he could easily see Democrats coming home to their party in a big way for Coakley during the tail end of the race.  He could also see a trickle for Baker turn into a raging river.  There are many reasons why either is plausible and Weld knows a lot about late breaking races.

But the national narrative that somehow Coakley is just blowing this race because she’s a “loser” is wrong, obnoxious, and tiresome. 

Talking Points Memo, Politico, Washington Post, Scott Brown, 2014 Massachusetts Governor's Race, Charlie Baker, Martha Coakley

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