In one of the least-surprising developments in Massachusetts political history, Martha Coakley will announce her bid for governor on Monday.
She will kick off her campaign in an old-school, barnstorming way, with 18 appearances over three days. Bucking the recent vogue of soft-focus campaign videos, she will stand before voters and the media in person, over and over. She will take questions. She will approach her redemption with the personal touch she is widely presumed to lack.
And redemption is exactly what this nascent bid for higher office represents. This is about removing a stain — the memory of her loss to Republican Scott Brown in the US Senate race in 2010.
You know the story. The story of how she lost the campaign that was hers to lose, ushering in nearly three years of Scott Brown’s brand of politics. You have heard that during that race she disdained shaking hands with voters in the cold outside Fenway Park. You may recall that, in the wake of her defeat, pretty much everyone agreed that her political career was over for good.
Coakley responded to that defeat with the most stand-up response she could muster. She went back to work and did her job. She pursued banks handing out bogus mortgages, indicted corrupt politicians, stood up for victims of human trafficking. She went back to being a first-rate attorney general. There are certainly worse ways to respond to a crushing defeat.
Nevertheless, some very smart people believe that the loss to Brown remains unforgivable, especially among the party activists who do much of the unglamorous work of campaigns. They are still mad, and Coakley must mend fences. You can expect to hear a lot of this in the days and weeks to come.
Even if they come around, winning the Democratic nomination will be no cakewalk. Coakley enters a crowded field, though it is mostly crowded with people who have never won, or even waged, a statewide race. She is the undisputed front-runner, which is plainly a mixed blessing, given the close scrutiny it invites of her every move.
It may be telling that Coakley is one of the last — if not the last — Democratic candidate to enter the race. Striking out boldly has never been her hallmark. Of all her alleged and real weaknesses, struggling to make decisions may be the most valid knock against her. Toward the end of the Senate campaign, she looked like she was trying out a new strategy every other day.
As it happens, Coakley is not the only bounce-back candidate in the race. After years as the GOP’s great hope for the corner office, Charlie Baker struggled to find a message or a strategy against Deval Patrick in 2010. His supporters figure his chances are better this time around, just by virtue of not having to face Patrick.
Coakley is the odds-on Democratic front-runner, but it isn’t that simple. The out-of-nowhere electoral successes of Patrick and Elizabeth Warren have convinced some party stalwarts that voters are more drawn to fresh faces, that experience has never counted for less in winning than it does now. Whatever Coakley’s virtues, the one thing she can't pull off is novelty.
But the really interesting question her campaign raises is this: Just how long are candidates hobbled by defeats? The only real blemish on Coakley’s resume is that she lost a race. When, exactly, did everyone decide that’s an unforgettable, if not unforgivable, offense?
Though her reputation for aloofness is a misconception, Coakley is not the most dynamic campaigner or debater, and her desire will be questioned, and tested, in this race. Everyone will want to see just how badly she wants to win.
Still, it’s interesting to see the skepticism greeting such a successful politician. Coakley’s fate in this race won’t be known for a year, but I wouldn't bet against redemption.