Monday, November 30, 2009

People Forget, Coakley is a Progressive

Alternatively, I could title this piece, "The Path to Senate Victory." It has become clear to me that people don't understand the dynamics of this race. With my endorsement of Khazei yesterday, some people have inevitably said, "Ryan, you're going to split the vote!" In most elections, I probably would have agreed with them. However, the dynamics of this election are not at all like the dynamics of, say, the election that first put Steven Lynch into power. There are no two progressives in this race, with a third conservative candidate hoping to be able to sneak by. That's just not happening.

What we have in this race are three progressive candidates and one corporate-gobbler who's come out as a lefty on social issues. While there isn't any liberal/conservative battle in play this election, no matter how much people try to manufacture one, there is certainly identity politics. It's identity politics, not a liberal/conservative divide, that has divided up the progressive camp -- and not into two, but at least three sides.

I'm going to paint in the broadest of brush strokes with the following comments, so let's all take a deep breath and understand it's just a generalization, and proceed. Who's supporting what candidates? Coakley's support is coming from a lot of civil rights activists, with organizations like MassEquality, NARAL and Planned Parenthood on board. I know a lot of glbt activists who have fiercely lined up behind Martha because, to her credit, she's pushed for our rights on a national level. Coakley took a firmer stance on the matter of choice than any single person in the House of Representatives did, including those so strongly in favor of a women's right to choose that they sit on the boards of some of these national civil rights organizations. There are certainly some unions on board her campaign, too, but that's not where the bulk of her support is coming from, at least not in my eyes. Feel free to argue otherwise in the comments.

Capuano's support is coming from a lot of the party base; the local activist bread-and-butter types have, at least in my opinion, lined up heavily behind him. I can't think of a single person on my Town Democratic Committee or the North Shore Young Democrats, both organizations I'm a part of, that supports Coakley (which isn't to say there aren't some, but they're certainly not being vocal about it, which is in huge contrast to Capuano supporters in both groups).

And why not? As anyone would notice who listened to my LeftAhead interview with Capuano, his local experience in Somerville as Mayor is key to why he understands constituent service and the big no-no of passing unfunded mandates. He's also been around for a longer time in many of these circles -- while the bulk of the state doesn't know who every Congressperson in Massachusetts is, party activists are a whole lot more likely to know them. Many union/blue collar types are lining up behind Capuano, as well, because he has a strong track record there. This is why, before I got to know Alan Khazei better, I was lining up behind Capuano, because these are among the most fundamentally important issues facing America -- and the one issue almost all Americans face together, because 97-99% of us aren't extraordinarily wealthy.

Pagluica's 14% or so of the electorate are not progressive activists. His strategy has seemingly changed from ad to ad, but he's certainly tried to paint himself a liberal. However, he has not been doing much of anything in this campaign beyond the ads and he hasn't done anything on the political scene before then, except give political donations -- and often to Republicans. The people who will vote for him in the Democratic Primary may be persuadable voters, but they're not the well informed ones, which probably means it'll be hard to actually reach these voters in a state-wide special election, least of all in the last week. For the other candidates, his votes are a black hole. There probably isn't enough time for them to escape, but they may not show up at all.

So where's Khazei's support coming from? Given that it's only recently that he had any sort of a political pulse in this campaign, coming in the form of the Rasmussen poll and Globe endorsement, it's a bit harder to tell. He has a natural connection to the progressive, college-educated, wonky types -- the people who are movement progressives, but may not specifically line up with any particular subgroup within more than any other. Like I said, harder to define. Polls have also suggested that instead of stealing votes from Capuano, he's been stealing some from Coakley. He's no doubt gained some traction on issues like health care, whilst more people have had the opportunity to learn more about him. People who learn more about his background are much more likely to vote for him; the only question is if there's enough time for him to cash in on this momentum he's gained over the past week.

The Globe poll that came out just before Rasmussen showed around a quarter of those polled were soft Coakley supporters, in addition to her strong supporters, which pushes her into the 40s in that poll. If any candidate is going to upset Coakley in this election, it's going to be because they ate significantly into that 26%, as well as the undecideds. That's the only path for victory for anyone not named Martha Coakley. What does that mean for the supposed liberal/conservadem divide? It means in this race, it's nearly nonexistent. One of the three progressives is going to win and if Khazei or Capuano are to pull off the upset, it won't be because their votes were pooled -- it'll be because they stole persuaded the bulk of Coakley's soft support to switch sides.

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