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Coakley strikes a defiant note as polls tip

Martha Coakley, making a point during the El Mundo's Conversation with Our Next Governor in Blackman Auditorium at Northeastern University.Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff

Democrat Martha Coakley and her advisers, facing new polling that shows her losing ground to rival Charlie Baker, are fighting to prove she is still in the race, hastily convening two late-night conference calls to rally her troops and striking a note of defiance during a rally Friday with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"We are in a dead heat," Coakley said at the rally, despite a series of polls in the governor's race showing Baker gaining momentum, including a Globe survey that gave the Republican a 9-point edge less than two weeks before the Nov. 4 election.

After the poll was released Thursday night, her advisers immediately put together the conference calls at 9:30 p.m. with about 50 political supporters, financial backers, and union leaders to blunt the survey's impact and fortify her coalition of top supporters.


Senior campaign adviser Doug Rubin, in the conference call and in an interview Friday, sought to douse the growing perception, even among Coakley loyalists, that Baker is gaining momentum. He particularly zeroed in on the Globe poll, saying it was an "outlier" that would only energize Coakley's supporters.

During the conference calls, Rubin and campaign manager Tim Foley walked the Coakley supporters through the campaign's internal polling, which shows the race closer, and emphasized their superior strength in getting voters to the polls on election day.

Rubin and Foley told the group that the notion that Baker was moving into the lead is "spin'' by the political establishment.

"We have thousands of volunteers working the grass roots, knocking on doors, talking to their friends and neighbors, and engaging on social media,'' Rubin said in a statement Friday. "They understand that Martha is fighting for all of us, while Charlie Baker is the darling of the insiders and special interests."

Rubin said the Coakley campaign pollster, Tom Kiley, a respected Democrat veteran of Massachusetts polling, showed Baker leading by only two points, 44 to 42, in a recent sample of 1,200 likely voters.


"If anything, the Globe poll being such an outlier has fired up our supporters and caused them to redouble their outreach efforts in support of Martha,'' he said. "Our supporters and volunteers know that the results of the Globe poll are not what they are seeing on the ground, and they are more motivated then ever to make history by making Martha Coakley the first women elected governor of Massachusetts."

A WBUR poll this week gave Baker a 1-point lead, 43-42, well within the margin of error. That survey also showed momentum in Baker's favor.

Baker's campaign tweaked Coakley for criticizing the polls. "The attorney general should spend more time talking about the issues people care about and less time complaining about public polls," said Jim Conroy, Baker's campaign manager.

With just over a week to go, Coakley is entering the toughest part of her long quest to redeem her stature — how to change the dynamics of the race without seeming desperate.

This all comes in the last frenetic week in which Republicans have an almost 3-to-1 advantage in television advertising. Despite speculation that their effectiveness is waning, such ads have proven to be a major factor in this race.

Campaign analysts and some Democratic supporters say Coakley faces a huge task in making sure Baker does not continue to build a lead. "The opportunity to do something is quickly passing,'' said Lou DiNatale, a Democratic pollster. "She is in a stall and she needs to throw the long ball.''


Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, agreed. He said it is very rare for there to be a game-changer in the final days of a statewide campaign.

He also said it will be tough for Coakley to energize Democrats, particularly because any sense that she may be on the verge of losing another race raises the memories of her US Senate campaign in 2010.

"Democrats are going to be discouraged and that complicates her problem, particularly because of the memories of the US Senate race,'' he said.

At about this point in that Senate race, Coakley began to see Republican Scott Brown gain ground and eventually pass her in the final run-up to the election. Her loss shook the national political world and was a huge humiliation for her. Since then, she has restored her political standing among Massachusetts Democrats, easily winning reelection and then a three-way Democratic gubernatorial primary this year.

Meanwhile, Baker, who himself is trying to resurrect a damaged political career following his clumsy 2010 race against Governor Deval Patrick, is trying to reach Election Day with as little controversy as possible.

Advisers say his closing message will play on his dual strategy — energizing his antitax, tough-on-welfare fiscal conservative base while trying to lure moderate and even liberal Democrats and independents who can buy into his stance he can balance budget-efficiency with compassion.


The challenge for Baker will be to make it through the final days without making a misstep that would play into the Democrat's hands.

He has made a few in the course of the campaign, mostly coming in off-hand comments. While he has been gaffe-free in recent weeks, the tensions and the building weariness from a long campaign can test the best of candidates.

Akilah Johnson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Frank Phillips can be reached at Phillips@globe.com.