Can Coakley show that she has right stuff?

The primary is over. Martha Coakley won, despite the fact that almost the entire group of Democratic brass endorsed Steve Grossman. It wasn’t that they didn’t like Coakley. They were just afraid that she’d blow the election as she did when she ran against Scott Brown. The party felt they couldn’t afford that again.

Why, then, did Grossman lose and Coakley win? Coakley has statewide name recognition. She’s done an OK job as attorney general although she has did suffer some big losses in that job. As for Grossman, I suspect his loss comes as a result of his being too institutional. He was head of both the state party and the national party. Massachusetts people are deeply suspicious of the “same old-same old.”

This is a very dangerous situation for the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. Even though the Bay State is bluer than blue, voters have, on more than a few occasions, been known to vote for Republicans to serve as their governor. In the past, Republican Charlie “The Chameleon” Baker fashioned himself as a tea party type but this time around, his narrative is reported to have changed. That’s really bad news for the Democrats. Baker seems to be both personable and well spoken and if there are going to be debates, Coakley had better take some lessons.

Deval Patrick has been a magnificent governor, well loved and respected and a man who many of us think could be president if things were to break right.

Coakley is not Deval Patrick and many people will inevitably compare her to her predecessor.

One of the reasons why Republicans win in Massachusetts is that there is resentment among voters when they perceive that the Democratic Party is trying to shove some old boy or old girl candidate down their throats. It’s as if they were saying, “Just because we’re Democrats you can’t take us for granted.” We’re smart here in the commonwealth and our people tend to think things through.

I recently spoke with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern. He argues that a vote for a Republican running for Congress is a vote for John Boehner, the Republican speaker. You can’t make that argument for statewide offices like governor. The governor is the head of the state, and is not tied into national office.

McGovern thinks that a man like Deval Patrick has tried his best to make sure that everyone of the social-economic scale gets a break. Usually, but not always, that is not true for Republicans who are often interested in protecting the accumulation of wealth and who make spurious arguments that revolve around the old “trickle down” theory, which just doesn’t work.

Massachusetts is in pretty good shape as you read this. Economically, we are doing quite well. Our kids are learning at better-than-average rates. While we will always have problems, it’s still a really nice place to live. At one end of the state we have the Berkshires; at the other we have Boston and Cape Cod. As Ethel Merman might have sung, “Who could ask for anything more?”

For her part, Coakley says that she’s learned from her mistakes and she’ll do better this time around. We can only hope so. People vote for candidates because of their perceived character assets. People loved FDR because he inspired confidence. During the worst of times, he was someone people thought they could ride the river with. Jimmy Carter was not. Bill Clinton was. Teddy Kennedy was.

Deval Patrick is a man most of us believe we can trust. We don’t think he’s in it for himself. He has some real iron in his political constitution. One can only hope that Martha Coakley has some of that as well and that she can show it to the people.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/13/14

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