Analysis: Independents Key To Senate Outcome

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Massachusetts State Sen. Scott Brown campaigns outside the T.D. Garden before a Boston Bruins hockey game in Boston on Monday. (AP)
State Sen. Scott Brown campaigns outside the TD Bank Garden before a Bruins game on Monday. (AP)

With the special general election for the U.S. Senate set for Tuesday, Democratic political analyst Dan Payne and Republican political analyst Todd Domke, in a Monday interview with WBUR, both stressed the importance of independent voters.

"What are Independents going to do?" Payne asked rhetorically.

"Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one, but independents are the largest bloc of voters, and they hold the balance. It's not even so much what their attitudes are, but how many actually vote.

"It's very unusual for anyone to have to vote on anything in January. Independents by nature are less political, and they have to get themselves animated enough to get out and vote."

"It is all about the undecided Independents," Domke agreed. "That's why Coakley working so hard to turn out her Democratic base rather than working on Independents is a sign of weakness.

"But what's most striking to me is that Brown supporters are not only more motivated but they like the message and the messenger. In Coakley's case, you already see Democrats writing op-eds and criticizing the candidate and the campaign ... as if it's already lost."

With high-profile figures descending on Boston in recent days to offer candidate endorsements, led by President Obama's visit on Sunday, Payne and Domke differed on the effect of such appearances.

"When a president comes to campaign for you, it really gives the campaign a jolt of energy," Payne said. "I was told that Obama spoke for almost an hour. There were thousands of people really pumped for this. There are very few public figures who can really transfix a crowd like Barack Obama and that's exactly what Martha Coakley needed after two weeks of some bad political news."

Domke concurred that Mr. Obama excited the crowd, but said, "Coakley basically had all the Democratic politicians lined up behind here, which everyone already assumes anyway." Domke also thought that Brown's endorsements by such figures as former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling were populist and non-political, and thus effective given some negative political sentiment.

Additionally, Domke said that the Obama rally "lost (Democrats) the chance to contact (potential voters) because they had the need to pump each other up." Payne countered that the same could be said for Brown's concurrent Sunday rally in Worcester.

Both analysts agreed that Coakley, the one-time election front-runner for a seat that has been Democratic for decades, has reason to be nervous.

Coakley should be worried, Payne said. "The mood of the electorate is angry and fearful. They're worried about jobs and they don't like Wall Street bonuses.

"The whole unseemly process of trying to get a health care bill has alienated people. If you don't set yourself apart from those things, you'll be seen as a status quo figure, so Coakley has to worry about that. The Coakley campaign also replayed the primary; that's not a wise course.

"And finally, the Coakley campaign allowed Scott Brown to masquerade as a moderate. He is not a moderate but he got away with it because the Coakley campaign allowed him to."

"What was most interesting was the arrogance of the one-party state here," Domke said, "which we saw from the night of the primary on." Domke was referring to Rep. Michael Capuano, who, after losing the primary and endorsing Coakley, said Brown had no chance to win.

"People don't like that kind of arrogance and that smugness about being the front-runner. Rather than being out campaigning, Coakley hurt herself."

This program aired on January 18, 2010.

Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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