For Martha Coakley, that was the main message from Worcester.
Not that she asked for it. Speaking to delegates at Saturday’s state convention, Coakley said she understood the 2010 loss to Scott Brown was painful “for a lot of people in this room. I understand how much of your heart and soul was in that race. Mine was too… But I made the decision to get right back in the ring.”
She’s back in the arena, but Coakley’s bid for redemption comes minus support from the party’s lifeblood — activists who have not forgotten her stunning loss to Brown and are not convinced she can beat Republican Charlie Baker, either.
Recent polls put Coakley miles ahead of any Democratic primary rival, and for now, leading Baker, although by single digits. But, 75 percent of convention delegates chose another candidate. Coakley won the support of 23 percent – barely eking out a second-place finish over newcomer Don Berwick, who finished third with 22 percent. State Treasurer Steve Grossman, who was the choice of 35 percent, was endorsed by acclamation when Coakley decided not to go forward with a second ballot.
In her convention speech, she tried to put the past behind her.
“No one will knock on more doors, make more phone calls, shake more hands than me in this race,” she promised delegates.
That she had to make that pledges speaks to the prevailing explanation for why she lost to Brown. She took victory for granted. Others in the party were guilty too, but the candidate is always most accountable.
Yet the Worcester results also illustrate a great disconnect between the choice of party activists and the early preference of Democratic voters when it comes to governor. Indeed, it would be hard to find a greater disconnect in recent Massachusetts political history.
In 1990, Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti won the convention endorsement, while challenger John Silber barely squeaked onto the ballot and went on to win the primary. But at the time of the convention, Bellotti was leading Silber in the polls, as well as Evelyn Murphy, the third Democrat to make the ballot that year.
“One has to be pretty cautious about using early polls to decide who the ‘front-runner’ is in party primaries,” said former Governor Michael Dukakis, recalling 1974, when he first ran for governor. Robert Quinn, the attorney general and the preferred candidate of the democratic establishment, was ahead in the polls in the early summer of 1974, but, recalled Dukakis, “I beat him in the September primary by 16 points.”
Indeed, Coakley’s huge polling lead gives Democrats especially cold comfort because that, too, is a reminder of what happened in 2010. What looked like an insurmountable lead for the Democratic candidate melted away. The circumstances were different. Brown was a personable campaigner who escaped serious scrutiny in the quick election-day run-up. But some of Coakley’s vulnerabilities remain the same.
She is, at heart, a prosecutor, and in Worcester, she prosecuted her case for a second chance at higher officer. She fought against the Defense of Marriage Act, battled to keep families in their homes. She’s trying to connect in a more personal way, speaking about her brother, Edward, who suffered from mental illness and committed suicide in 1996. And, she told delegates she wanted to be “your voice as governor.”
Her problem in Worcester: party loyalists who don’t think she worked hard enough to become their voice as US senator.