Martha Coakley wades in governor’s race, hand first

MEDFORD, 8 A.M.: Greeting resident Isabel Shea at Dempsey’s Breakfast and Lunch.
MEDFORD, 8 A.M.: Greeting resident Isabel Shea at Dempsey’s Breakfast and Lunch.

MEDFORD — If there was a hand in sight, Martha Coakley was determined to shake it.

Barnstorming from Medford to Hyannis on Monday, she embarked on what could fairly be called the Great Handshake Tour of 2013, pumping palm after palm in a frenetic display designed to lay to rest memories of her failed 2010 Senate race when she famously disdained shaking hands outside Fenway Park in the cold.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the tireless glad-handing will continue, her campaign said, as she races to greet voters from Pittsfield to Salem on the second and third days of her campaign for governor.


The message is clear: Coakley insists she has learned the lessons from her lackluster Senate race and will showcase a harder-working side of herself.

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At a Panera Bread in Brockton, the attorney general asked Alice McMahon, an assistant manager, how the business was doing and how long McMahon had worked there.

“My ultimate goal is to become a general manager,” McMahon told Coakley.

“Well, good luck,” Coakley said. “We need good women managing things.”

The governor’s race will test how much Coakley has evolved since she lost the seat held by Edward M. Kennedy to Republican Scott Brown, imperiling one of her party’s most cherished goals: universal health care.


She is, in some ways, back where she was before the Senate race: a popular elected official with statewide promise. The campaign will reveal whether she can broaden her profile beyond the realm of law enforcement and emerge as a credible candidate for a higher office with bigger demands and greater visibility.

ATTLEBORO, 12:20 P.M.: Introducing herself to lunch patrons at Morin’s Diner.

“The challenge for her is: Can you reinvent yourself?” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist who is not affiliated with any candidate for governor. “Can you get voters to take a second look at you? And when they do, can you convince them that you’re not the same person they saw in the last race?”

The challenge echoes the one faced by the lone Republican candidate, Charles D. Baker, who is trying to drop the strident tone he struck in his failed 2010 run for governor.

Coakley’s task, however, appears to be tougher than Baker’s. Not only was her loss a national political moment, but she is entering a crowded field of Democrats, including state Treasurer Steve Grossman, who has been locking up the support of activists and fund-
raisers, some of whom backed Coakley in 2010.

The field also includes Donald M. Berwick, a former director of the federal Medicaid program; Juliette N. Kayyem, a former Globe columnist and onetime state and federal homeland security official; and Joseph C. Avellone, a biotechnology executive.


In addition to the three-day, 18-stop tour she launched Monday, Coakley released a video that shows her striking a populist theme as she greets voters in subway stations and diners, paying tribute to police officers, teachers, hospital workers, and adults caring for aging parents.

“A lot of folks say politics is tough, and it can be,” she says in the video. “I know what it’s like to lose a race. I know how hard that is. But you know what? It’s nothing compared to what so many people go through every day in their lives.”

She has yet to outline specific policy proposals. On Monday, she said she would focus on the economy and education, but avoided details beyond her support for a longer school day and opposition to a new tax on computer software services.

Instead, she hurried from cafe to cafe. Often, the interactions focused on chitchat about food, rather than voters’ most pressing concerns.

FALL RIVER, 1:33 P.M.: Meeting Lawrence Santos of Taunton at Al Mac’s Diner.

When she spoke to a man who had ordered a Cobb salad at Morin’s Diner in Attleboro, she tried to find common ground: “Cobb salad is one of my favorites,” she said.

At Al Mac’s Diner in Fall River, Coakley told Kristina Perry, “I’m looking at your soup. It looks very good.”

Perry, who is due to deliver a baby boy in two weeks, told Coakley she is planning on naming her son Boston. Coakley’s response: “Give him the middle name of Strong.”

Coakley’s supporters say that, despite her Senate defeat, she never lost her popularity as attorney general.

“What was so frustrating about the loss was that on the eve of the election, when she was losing, she was solidly rated as doing a good job as attorney general,” said Celinda Lake, who was Coakley’s pollster during the Senate campaign.

But Coakley’s image took a beating, as Democrats blamed her for losing the race. She was even lampooned on Saturday Night Live. “Martha Coakley, you are a disgrace!” said Fred Armisen, playing President Obama in a scathing skit. “You couldn’t beat Dick Cheney for mayor of Berkeley! You deserved to lose, Martha!”

Thankfully, supporters say, she was forced to run for reelection in fall 2010, and she used the matchup against a little-known Republican to correct some of the mistakes of her Senate campaign. She promised angry party activists that she would earn their support again and participated in several debates with her opponent.

At the annual St. Patrick’s Day political roast in South Boston that year, she pulled on a barn jacket, like the one Brown wore in his campaign.

Supporters say Coakley’s response to her loss showed her strength and resolve, themes Coakley herself has begun mentioning on the campaign trail.

“People are judged by the way they handle a setback, not by the setback itself,” said Barbara Lee, a fund-raiser who supports Coakley. “And the fact that Martha picked herself up and got going again, I think people will be impressed with that and already are impressed with that.”

On Monday, Coakley said she enjoyed meeting voters in the first hours of her campaign.

Asked whether she would make a stop at Fenway Park, she replied “I am going to be shaking hands at diners and living rooms and Fenway Park.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@ globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.