Analysis: Coakley Underestimated Brown's 'Amazing Political Talent'

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U.S. Sen.-elect Scott Brown smiles as he addresses reporters during a news conference at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston on Wednesday. (AP)
U.S. Sen.-elect Scott Brown smiles as he addresses reporters during a news conference at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston on Wednesday. (AP)

The fallout from Tuesday's U.S. Senate special general election is being felt across Massachusetts and the nation, as Republican Scott Brown pulled an upset to beat the onetime favorite, Democrat Martha Coakley.

"I'm sure Democrats are surely mourning this terrible loss. I think they are probably in a state of shock," said Elizabeth Sherman, the founding director of the Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston and currently a professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

"This was a golden opportunity for someone who was very capable, very committed, who could carry on the legacy of Ted Kennedy and move forward on liberal issues, especially his signature issue, health care. And I think to have someone who is the polar opposite in terms of issues, in Massachusetts of all places, is a shock."

While Sherman does find fault with Coakley's campaign approach, she was also quick to laud Brown, whom she labeled "an amazing political talent."

"I think Coakley underestimated Brown," said Sherman. "She's a very capable, intelligent woman, but unfortunately I think she was somewhat scripted. She was not prepared, I think, for this juggernaut of Scott Brown's campaign, who so perfectly captured this wellspring of anger and determination out there to upend the establishment and send a message to Washington. He really seized the day."

Sherman also dismissed gender's role in the election's outcome, saying "no matter whether it is a man or a woman, you've just got to be a fantastic candidate to play in the very, very top level of the big leagues."

Though Sherman believes that Brown's acceptance speech showed determination and that "his message is not something that he recently required," she also said that his propensity to going off message could get him in trouble in the future.

"Brown is used to being himself, and saying whatever he thinks, and I think this could provide plenty of grist for the mill of politics in this hothouse of national politics, where one false move could demolish your future," said Sherman.

For Massachusetts, says Sherman, Brown's election indicates that Democrats are at a critical juncture.

"Massachusetts is just not as blue as we think," said Sherman. "This is a fork in the road, a turning point. We're going to have to analyze the mood of the voters and the desires of the voters, because [Republicans] sent a message, loud and clear."

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This program aired on January 20, 2010.

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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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