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Commentary: Unsolicited Advice For The Coakley Campaign As It Circles The Wagons

Martha Coakley, right, speaks with reporters alongside U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren following a roundtable discussion at offices of the Service Employees International Union last month. (Steven Senne/AP)
Martha Coakley, right, speaks with reporters alongside U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren following a roundtable discussion at offices of the Service Employees International Union last month. (Steven Senne/AP)
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With all polls showing the governor’s race a dead heat, The Boston Globe reports that Democrat Martha Coakley’s gubernatorial campaign — run by the supposed top strategist in the state — has sounded the alarm, asking for help from other Democratic strategists. A friend once called this “a hack alert.” It’s more likely an effort to spread the blame for a lackluster effort before the election.

Assuming the Coakley people lost my number, I’ll offer some advice to stop the erosion they’re experiencing.

Martha Coakley, right, speaks with reporters alongside U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren following a roundtable discussion at offices of the Service Employees International Union last month. (Steven Senne/AP)
Martha Coakley, right, speaks with reporters alongside U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren following a roundtable discussion at offices of the Service Employees International Union last month. (Steven Senne/AP)

Start by playing to win debates. Act like you really, really want the job. No more, “I think that’s right,” or, “I’d be willing to look at that.” Take a stand, show you’ve thought about a problem, demand to be heard on what you’ll do about it and, this is the key, go after Charlie Baker. “I’m for pre-K education because our schools are failing our kids. And, [looking to Baker] you only see dollar signs. I see opportunities wasted, lives wasted!”

Get professional debate preparation help. Practice how to connect, when to show emotion, keeping phrases in your head ready to use at a moment’s notice, what to do when Baker’s speaking (shake your head). Just about every famous debate moment, including vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen saying to his opponent Dan Quayle, “You’re no Jack Kennedy,” was scripted. Even Bill Clinton getting off his debate stool to walk up to young black woman to answer her question was rehearsed.

Remind the state that Baker is (gasp!) a Republican. He’s a fully informed member of the party of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin. After you lost to Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren chased him into New Hampshire by using his party against him. Don’t buy the conventional (GOP) wisdom that he can’t be tied to the national party because he’s running for a state office. Those TV spots featuring Beth Lindstrom, who ran Scott Brown’s win for U.S. Senate, were paid for by the national Republican Governors Association, which put 99.7 percent of the money into the ads.

Don’t let Baker off the mat on issues of special concern to women: waffling on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; dismissing Hobby Lobby’s abortion restrictions; and calling a newswoman, “sweetheart.” Three blunders in one week -- all offensive to women. Everybody doesn't know about them. Keep driving on the gender gap; you can’t win without that being big.

If Baker wants to pretend to be a Democrat, he should have run against you in the primary. He’s not a Democrat on earned sick leave, welfare, or respect for women’s rights -- as he displayed last week. In fact, when he starts to tick off his pro-women stands, say, “Hold on a minute, sweetheart!” Guaranteed soundbite.

It’s been said that a liberal Republican is someone who, if you’re drowning 50 feet from shore, throws you a 20-foot rope. That’s Baker. He kinda sorta is for earned sick leave, he’s almost for casinos -- if it’s the one he likes. Climate change? Four years ago he didn't know if it’s man-made. Now, probably. In another four years? “Is it me or is it getting hot in here?”

Tell the story Elizabeth Warren told about your calling her before she was running for anything. She said you called and said, “You’re doing what needs to be done, taking on the big banks and Wall Street.” And she said you went after them. By the way, make sure she’s in the audience of a debate when you tell that story. Admit it, she’s good on this stuff and you need to borrow her outrage.

Don’t defend Gov. Patrick; let him worry about his own legacy. Baker’s making you the incumbent because you’re attorney general. Say what you will do to improve where the governor has failed or lost interest. The Department of Children and Families is a mess. Those kids in that rancid, disgusting house in Blackstone were handed over to DCF. Where are they headed? Who’s checking up on their physical and mental health? Are they in school?

Insist that Baker explain his choice for lieutenant governor, Karyn Polito. He picked the ex-state representative to cozy up to the far-right in his party. A local Tea Party group gave her an award last year as a worthy successor to right-wing Allen West, who attended the ceremony and passed the coveted Whack-Job Torch to Polito. A Tea Party hero, West lost a seat in Congress, claiming 80 House Democrats were members of the Communist Party and comparing food stamps and Social Security to slavery. What’s up with Polito, Charlie?

Voters think they've got you figured out. You’re a perfectly fine attorney general. But governor? Not so much. If you want to move up to the top job, you've got to show you can wield executive power. Starting now and in every debate, show you are willing to fight to be in charge. Make the case against Baker.

Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.

Dan Payne Twitter Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.

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