Martha Coakley did not lose the election on Tuesday. Charlie Baker won it.
Both candidates — haunted by four-year-old criticisms of their failed bids for US senator and governor, respectively — put the ghosts of 2010 to rest for good this week.
In fact, they’d left them behind months ago, but some critics hadn’t noticed. Tuesday showed them. There was undeniable redemption in Baker’s victory, and, however painful it had to be, in Coakley’s narrow defeat. In their speeches Wednesday, each was gracious and calm. They both had proven what they needed to, the razor’s edge outcome an affirmation for both of them.
“I feel like we both won,” Coakley said, and she was right, in a way.
The governor-elect found the man who eluded him, and voters, before: Measured and moderate, he left behind the small, angry figure who sought the corner office last time. In his place was a man with a heart — his odd tale of the fisherman notwithstanding — who made a convincing case that he would be a great manager and a check on Democrats on Beacon Hill.
He won because he went after votes all over the state, refusing to cede Democratic strongholds in the cities. Those visits to Dudley Square went way beyond the modest gains he made there: They sent a clear message to independent and sometime Democratic voters everywhere that Baker was listening to, and cared about, everyone.
He convinced conservatives to stand by him with tough talk on taxes, welfare, and undocumented immigrants. Those issues had resonated with voters emerging from English High in Lynn on Tuesday.
“He said only one thing I liked: He’s going to send people to work who are on welfare,” said Demetri Skalkos, a landlord who has tenants on Section 8 subsidies and doesn’t like it. “Why do I work like a dog but they get paid for doing nothing?”
He was like a lot of the Baker voters coming out of the school that afternoon: A few of them had harsh words for Coakley, but most — persuaded in part by millions in ad buys — were driven by issues Baker had highlighted.
“I’m more oriented towards family and more conservative values,” said Jessica Kirby, who has voted for Democrats before but chose Baker this time. “I’ve got young kids starting school soon, and I support charter schools.”
He won, too, because of something that has little to do with either gubernatorial candidate: Voters were angry at President Obama and wanted to send a message.
“I’m sick of the Democrats,” said Joseph Nuccio, a retired West Lynn Creamery worker. “Have they done anything, the president especially? He’s pulling the race card all over the place . . . He’s incompetent.”
Coakley, Nuccio allowed, was “a good attorney general, anyway.” That attorney general grew into a relentless, and frequently terrific, campaigner. Coakley worked her heart out meeting voters across the state. She arrived at the rationale for her candidacy that eluded her four years ago: She had proven she cares about the state’s most vulnerable citizens, and she was the one they could trust.
If she had run that campaign in 2010, Coakley would be a US senator today. She was very nearly the state’s next governor.
And now this person of remarkable accomplishments, grace, and resilience looks to be leaving public life. That’s a big loss.
Here were two well-matched opponents. They fought hard, and well. The voters of Massachusetts got a great, if bruising, campaign. Nobody choked.
To suggest otherwise is to deny both candidates the credit they deserve.