Women Likely Hold Keys To Victory For Both Coakley And Baker

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The usual storyline in Massachusetts politics implies Democrats have the women's vote on lock. But the truth is more complicated.

Coakley May Need A Gender Gulf, Not Gap

In 2010, Martha Coakley won women ... by three points.

"Winning the women's vote by 3 percent is a pathetic record for a woman candidate in this day in age in a liberal state like Massachusetts," said Tufts University political science professor Jeff Berry.

Berry says Coakley lost the 2010 U.S. Senate race to Scott Brown partly because of women, and Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, agrees.

"When you're looking for what's different when Brown beat Coakley or when Romney won the governor's office it's that that gap among women was much smaller," Koczela said.

On the other hand, if you look at elections when Democrats won — Ed Markey in 2013, Elizabeth Warren in 2012, Deval Patrick in 2010 — they won women by lopsided margins.


"The learning there is that the women's vote does move," said Koczela. "Not every demographic group moves really in their voting preferences, but women in Massachusetts have shown their willingness to support Republicans at least marginally more."

So, for Coakley, the lesson learned is that to win in November, she needs to turn the gender gap into a gender gulf.

Back in July, during the primary campaign, Coakley launched her "Moms for Martha" tour and began organizing events dedicated exclusively to reaching women voters.

Her actions suggest she's trying to reach out to women as a distinct demographic group, but she's hesitant to acknowledge gender politics and insists she's trying to reach out to all voters.

"Our focus I think is on issues that are important to people, to people who want jobs, who want a chance to get on that economic ladder and do well," said Coakley. "And particularly women - want to be heard, they want a voice, they want to have that opportunity to get a fair shot. But, I think men do too in Massachusetts."

Baker Needs To Close The Gender Gap

Her rival Charlie Baker is not as coy about his mission. Nearly a year before the election, he picked Karyn Polito as his running mate.

Statically speaking, women hold the keys to victory for both Democrats and Republicans, but those keys aren't identical.

"What Charlie Baker needs to do isn't win. But, he does at least need to do what Scott Brown did, and that's close the gap," Koczela said.

If Baker loses the women's vote by 5, 6, 7 points, the data suggests he can still win this election.

But he's not even close to those margins yet.

Women In Baker's Life More Visible In Campaign

In the 2010 gubernatorial race, Baker lost the women's vote by 24 points.

This time around, he's courting women using the women in his own life.

His wife Lauren is a lot more visible on the campaign trail than she was four years ago.

"We learned a lot going through the last campaign, and one of the things that we learned was that we didn't really allow people to get to know Charlie as a person," she said at a "Women for Charlie" phone banking night in Brighton.

Lauren Baker says women want to know what kind of person Charlie is - is he a good husband, a good dad, a good friend? She's trying to help answer those questions.

The day after the primary election, another Baker woman chimed in — his 17-year-old daughter Caroline appeared in a campaign ad.

And, on Thursday, as her dad chitchatted with supporters who munched on a mix of roasted vegetable hummus pimiento rolls and and smoked ham gruyere baguettes, Caroline was on hand again - this time at a "Women for Charlie" luncheon in Boston's South End, where she tried to humanize her dad and his quirks.

"You know, the last election I know he was the 'scary' candidate," she said. "That's because during debates he sounded angry, but that's just because he's really passionate about it, and he wants to make a difference, and make Massachusetts great."

'What Women Are Responding To Is Not Coakley's Success, But Her Failure'

But, despite Baker's efforts, many women voters seem loyal to Coakley.

The latest WBUR tracking poll shows Baker is trailing Coakley by 20 points in this group.

Tufts' Berry says women are now converting to Coakley's cause because of her poor performance in 2010.

"My take on this is that what women are responding to is not Coakley's success, but her failure," he said. "Martha Coakley leaned in and got pushed out, and I think that resonates a lot with women."

That sentiment seems to have resonated with Margery Williams from Somerville, a WBUR poll respondent.

"I'd like to have a woman as a governor," she said. "Yeah, she made a campaign mistake last time, but weren't the people of Massachusetts wrong to judge her so harshly for that?"

But some women don't feel the same level of empathy.

And so, perhaps fatefully, whether Massachusetts elects its first female governor is, to a degree, in the hands of female voters.

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This segment aired on September 19, 2014.

Asma Khalid Reporter
Asma Khalid formerly led WBUR's BostonomiX, a biz/tech team covering the innovation economy.



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