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Too Little, Too Late: Advocacy Groups Lament Role In Coakley Campaign

BOSTON — The reverberations of the upset win of Republican Scott Brown are being felt in Democratic-leaning advocacy groups around the country.  Many of the classic constituents of the Democratic Party are second guessing the role they played in the crucial Massachusetts Senate race.

Representatives from immigration reform, women’s rights and reproductive choice groups are among those trying to assess the impact and their responsibility for the failure of Democrat Martha Coakley. Ali Noorani, an advocate for immigration reform says he and others should have been more active in shaping Coakley’s campaign message.

“We did not articulate that immigration reform is part of the change agenda,” he said. “So the fact that this was a race that evolved around the issue of change, and Scott Brown in spite of having a long history of being anti-immigrant was able to tap into that wave. ”

Brown is against granting illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Noorani said Brown’s win doesn’t ruin prospects for immigration reform but makes it more difficult.

Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, shifts the blame to Coakley for not engaging Hispanics who helped elect President Obama. “My sense was it was not an energized campaign and we certainly didn’t see the outreach to the Latino community that you would have expected in order to generate the support and mobilization that could have made a difference,” she said.

Immigrant advocates say if Coakley mobilized the 13 percent of registered voters in Massachusetts who are naturalized citizens or children of immigrants,  it might have made a difference.  There are also regrets from women’s groups who say Coakley missed her chance at making history as the first female senator from Massachusetts.

National Organization of Women President Terry O’Neill, speaking from a noisy room in the Capitol, said Coakley didn’t use her gender in the race, and O’Neill wishes she had. “We made it very clear, from our perspective, in our advocacy that her gender mattered to us and was very much a plus,” she said.

In her victory speech at the primary, Coakley talked about the significance of being a female candidate, but then rarely mentioned it for the rest of the election. And despite Coakley’s attempt near the end of the race to make reproductive rights a key issue, it didn’t resonate with voters, said Cecile Richards, who heads the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“Among the Planned Parenthood supporters, there was a lot of interest and involvement,” Richards  said. “At the end of the day, this election wasn’t about choice or reproductive rights, so many issues were trumped by really jobs and the economy and frankly even terrorism.”

But the issue that’s center stage now for Democrats is health care reform, and Mr. Obama says nothing more should happen on the bill until Sen. Scott Brown is seated.

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