The Massachusetts election is by no means a done deal, but Democrats are furiously spinning the race under the assumption that Brown will win. There are a number of misconceptions being spread by those trying to pin blame mostly or solely on Coakley, but one of the more puzzling Democratic talking points is that Coakley "let the race become a personality contest." That line was uttered by Barney Frank last week and is repeated by Tom Schaller at FiveThirtyEight.com today:
*She allowed Brown to turn the race into a personality, rather than an issue/policy choice. Aside from healthcare and the implicit notion that Coakley would be a stand-in vote for the deceased icon whose seat she would be filling, what was the Coakley "platform"?
No one denies that Brown has a better personality than Coakley, but after watching three Brown v. Coakley debates, it's clear that the thrust of his campaign wasn't that he owned a truck. Brown attacked Coakley from the right on the major public policy issues of the day--terrorism, taxes, health care, and cap and trade. Brown adviser Eric Ferhnstrom tells National Review's Robert Costa today that "people talk about the potency of the health-care issue, but from our own internal polling, the more potent issue here in Massachusetts was terrorism and the treatment of enemy combatants."
In the debates, Brown frequently brought up Coakley's support for trying enemy combatants in civilian court. In fact, during the one debate that was televised live in Boston, each candidate was given a chance to ask the other a question. Brown brought up Coakley's support for trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in civilian court in Manhattan and asked if she'd support giving him the death penalty. (She said she'd support the law of the land, though she's personally opposed to capital punishment.)
Coakley, too, tried to make the election about issues. In her one shot during the debates to ask Brown a question, she brought up the endorsement he received from a pro-life group and asked about his support for a conscience clause that would allow religious hospital workers to not be required to disperse emergency contraception pills--"deny emergency room care to rape victims," as Coakley put it. She later focused on this issue in a TV commercial and her infamous Rape Mailer. But even on abortion, Brown stood his ground and attacked Coakley from the right, highlighting his opposition to public funding for abortion and late-term abortions. Though he calls Roe v. Wade settled law, he also says he would vote for judges who would overturn it.
So, Coakley bears some blame for trying to turn the race into a culture war (like Creigh Deeds did in Virginia). But that criticism ignores why Coakley focused on that issue in the first place. By pushing a deeply unpopular left-wing agenda, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid left Coakley without many avenues to attack Brown. The Democrats' health care bill is unpopular even in Massachusetts. What issue was she supposed to campaign on?