Yesterday, the Commonwealth’s democrats came very close to electing Martha Coakley governor. We did it without enthusiasm, but with the kind of grim determination that comes from knowing, or at least remembering, what losing feels like. Ultimately, we fell just short. And, let’s be clear about it — we fell short because our candidate failed to excite the imagination of voters and failed to present a clear and meaningful answer to the question of why she would be a better governor than Charlie Baker. In four years, we need to be ready to explain why we will do better and we will need a leader who can make that case in a way that energizes a changing population of voters. The era of nominating the person who “is next” has to have come to an end with yesterday’s loss.
We lose the elections where we nominate the person who has earned the chance to run. Harshbarger, O’Brien, Coakley, and now Coakley, stand in stark contrast to Patrick and Warren (and even State Representative Dukakis, who was not logically next when he was elected). The Governor and Senator decided that they were ready to enter electoral politics — and then set out to persuade us (one small group at a time) that they were the right person for the job. Electoral victories depend, at least in part, on a candidate’s ability to generate passion in the electorate and thereby expand a party’s traditional base by reaching new voters and independents. Candidates who capture the imagination of the voters win by a lot. Candidates who do not, struggle and lose. And, for what it’s worth, it is really not that hard to identify candidates who have the potential to generate that kind of enthusiasm.
More than a year ago, Emily’s List worked to persuade Juliette Kayyem, a former state and federal Homeland Security official, to enter the governor’s race. They did so because they believed (correctly) that she would have been able to generate enthusiasm and, perhaps most importantly, reach a new generation of voters. Then Martha Coakley entered the race and Emily’s List worked to persuade Juliette to withdraw. She did not, because she believed we’d reached a point in time where competition between women was tolerable. It turns out that she was brave, but wrong; Emily’s List worked hard to keep influential women in Martha’s camp. Ultimately, at the Democratic convention in Worcester, Juliette fell just short of the 15% required to make the primary ballot. Many established political figures voted for her on the floor of the convention, but very few said aloud that they would do so. In another blog entry, I have argued for a change in the rules so as to prevent the party from denying its most promising newcomers the opportunity to compete for the nomination and have the voters, rather than the insiders, decide the outcome. Here, I want only to make the point that it was the state convention that closed the door to the possibility of a candidate who could have won the race against Charlie Baker.
Juliette managed, better than any candidate in this cycle, to talk to younger Democrats. The state College Democrats endorsed her candidacy. Governor Patrick energized newer voters. Senator Warren continues to do so. Juliette won a similar endorsement from a group of voters on the other end of the temporal spectrum. In both cases, the voters heard from all of the then candidates in person before making their choice. None of this mattered at the convention — where the party establishment shut the door on her candidacy (and on that of Joe Avellone).
As we get ready (and we need to be getting ready soon) to take on Governor Baker, we need to look for a leader who can talk successfully to voters of all ages. We need to look for a leader who can understand the plight of our Gateway Cities and the possibility of all of the intellect that comes to study here and can see a vital connection between the two. And we need to look for someone who has a leader’s mindset rather that a litigator’s(there’s a reason it’s hard to elect an attorney general). But mostly, we have to have courage to break molds and reach for change.
I do not imagine that there is only one person who fits the description above. But I know that my party failed this time to choose a nominee who had the potential to win. Martha Coakley did the best that she could possibly have done yesterday and it was not enough. It was never going to be enough. This race ended in Worcester. Let’s together make sure that the next race gets a boost from the convention, rushes to the primary, and ends on a happier evening in November four years from now.