Will Obama help Coakley?
It is not clear if this visit will help or hurt the Democrat’s campaign. On one hand, it will help motivate a Democratic base that is in desperate need of some motivation. On the other, it helps nationalize the race and mobilizes and excites an opposition that needs little motivation.
I have talked to a few Democratic strategists and they have told me that they don’t need a big-turnout election. That would mean that non-traditional voters have come out to send the president a message, overwhelming a Democratic turnout operation that could help get unmotivated voters to show up and vote for Coakley.
But sending Obama almost ensures a pretty high turnout.
Yes, Massachusetts is a pretty liberal state. And, yes, it tends to send loyal Democrats to Washington. But many in the Massachusetts delegation are Irish Democrats, guys like Richie Neal, Mike Capuano, Steve Lynch. They represent voters who are pro-life, pro-union and, during the primary, pro-Hillary Clinton. Clinton easily beat Obama in the primary, despite the fact that the future president had the whole Kennedy family campaigning for him.
Sure, Massachusetts tends to be liberal when times are going well. And times have been going well there for a while. It has the fourth highest per-capita income in the nation. It has a thriving biotech industry, a very educated workforce and a successful high-tech corridor.
But the state has been hit hard by the recession, it has a very high state income and state sales tax, and frustration is starting to boil. It is awfully easy to be liberal when times are good. It is not easy when times are tough and getting tougher.
The president’s approval ratings have sunk to a mediocre 55 percent in the state. His healthcare plan is opposed by 51 percent of Massachusetts voters. And worse for him, the candidate he is supporting is a complete disaster.
In a state that is 44 percent Catholic, Coakley suggested that Catholics who believe in their church doctrine on abortion shouldn’t work in emergency rooms. In a state that bleeds Red Sox red, she mocked her opponent for campaigning outside Fenway Park, and suggested that the most famous Red Sox pitcher in the last half-century was a Yankees fan. One of her ads spelled her state wrong, and another of her ads included a picture of the World Trade Center towers.
It is not clear what base Obama is there to turn out. Massachusetts is one of the whitest, richest, most Catholic states in the country. While it has a reputation for being liberal, Irish and Italians make up about 38 percent of the state, and they usually aren’t that liberal. My guess is they are pretty sick of paying high taxes, pretty tired of the slowing economy and pretty angry about the direction of the country.
Republicans tend to do poorly in the Bay State because they had a long legacy of opposing the political aspirations of the Irish and the Italians. But those old grudges are starting to fade away.
Ted Kennedy is gone, and his seat is open. The GOP has a better than 50-50 shot of capturing it. Does the Obama trip improve Coakley’s chances? It is an open question, but I tend to think not.
This reminds me of Copenhagen.
Visit Mr. Franken’s website at www.bobfranken.tv.