John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Will the Obama Visit Help Coakley?

Posted on January 17, 2010

Is this a repeat of Copenhagen?

Remember when the President traveled to the Danish Capitol in order to win the Olympics for his home-town of Chicago, only to be humiliated when the IOC gave the Windy City the heave-ho in the first round?

The President today traveled to Boston in order to save the faltering campaign of Martha Coakley in a campaign to fill the seat of Senator Ted Kennedy.

It is not clear if this visit will help or hurt the Democrats campaign.  On one hand, it will help motivate a Democratic base that is in desperate need of some motivation.  On the other hand, 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 insures 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 bio-tech industry, a very educated work-force, 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% in the state.  His health care plan is opposed by 51% of Massachusetts’ voters.  And worse for him, the candidate he is supporting is a complete disaster.

In a state that is 44% 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 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% 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 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.