Dems Prepare for Complete Coakley Meltdown

This is an unusual headline for a major news story with just days remaining in the race: “Coakley underestimated Scott Brown in Mass. Senate race. And that’s at the Boston Globe too, where the editors just endorsed the lackluster Coakley over the insurgent Republican Brown:

After Attorney General Martha Coakley sailed largely unscathed through the Democratic Senate primary, her aides set a course for the general election that fit her status as the perceived front-runner: protect her statewide popularity, and ignore the little-known Republican opponent.

It turned out to be a major miscalculation.

With Democrats around the country now panicked about a neck-and-neck race with Republican Scott Brown, Coakley’s campaign has suddenly been forced to tear up that strategy. She has pivoted into attack mode, targeting Brown and his record in TV ads, at events, and in news releases and interviews. She has expanded her presence on the campaign trail. And she has called in national Democrats to bail her out.

”They should have been prepared for this,” said Michael Shea, a Democratic media strategist who worked for US Representative Michael Capuano, whom Coakley beat in the primary. ”You don’t let someone creep up on you like he has.”

So what happened?

Insiders in the Coakley campaign — none of whom would agree to talk strategy for the record — say they were convinced that Brown faced too many hurdles to be a viable challenger in the race to replace Edward M. Kennedy. His political profile signaled no threat. They felt he was too conservative for Massachusetts, and that his legislative career had been unremarkable.

Some in Coakley’s inner circle say it was mere complacency. One adviser said the early strategy also fit Coakley’s personality — she is not a natural campaigner, she does not like to grandstand, and she is averse to stirring up controversy, the adviser said. The campaign’s approach in the immediate post-primary days was to focus on Coakley’s strengths — broad state-wide recognition, and high favorable ratings among voters — and ride the momentum off her landslide victory in the four-way primary race.

Coakley limited her campaign appearances and refrained from airing television and radio ads to promote her candidacy. Her campaign was aware that Brown was traveling the state, but, even through the holidays, her aides were confident he had yet to get much notice.

Then Brown found his opening. Even though a Globe poll a week ago showed Coakley comfortably ahead, surveys conducted by two out-of-state firms using automated phone calls showed him surging. One poll had the candidates virtually tied.

The polls brought national attention and a flood of support and money from around the country for Brown, who had gained traction among Republicans everywhere by promising to be the “41st vote” blocking the Democrats’ efforts to overhaul the nation’s health care system. Suddenly, the campaign was sizzling, becoming a political event with the potential to define this year’s mid-term elections nationwide.

Though some in the Coakley camp acknowledge being caught flat-footed, they say it came early enough for them to jump-start the campaign and draw in national reinforcements, including President Obama, who plans to campaign for Coakley in the Boston area tomorrow.

The president will indeed head to Massachusetts. See the New York Times, “Obama to Campaign in Massachusetts on Sunday.”

And this would be a significant change from earlier reports, for example Byron York’s, “Massachusetts: ‘Bottom has fallen out’ of Coakley’s polls; Dems prepare to explain defeat, protect Obama.”

Damned if you do or damned if you don’t. Either way, this is just awful news for the Dems, and more evidence – if things really do go Scott Brown’s way on Tuesday – that 2010’s going to be an epic GOP year.

Cross-posted from American Power.

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