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Commentary: Top 10 Surprises Of The Gubernatorial Race

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1. Surprisingly dull. The 2014 general election season has been the most boring of any in state history. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising since lack of debate is a natural consequence of one-party rule. For most public offices, there will be only one candidate on the ballot. For the remaining offices there are few hotly contested races. The only statewide race to generate much interest after the primary was the gubernatorial contest, and even that didn’t ignite fireworks until the final days of what Boston Globe columnist Thomas Farragher called “their increasingly noxious campaign.”

2. The New Hampshire Senate contest will not be on our ballot. Not only is New Hampshire a second home to our former senator, Scott Brown, but its Senate race was of greater interest to Massachusetts voters than our own Senate race…which actually never became a race. (Does this sound like something out of “Believe it or Not!”?)

3. Martha Coakley failed to raise much money. Despite the Democrat’s advantages in being a longtime incumbent who was expected to win her party primary, Coakley’s campaign apparently did not make fundraising a high priority — or perhaps she just couldn’t persuade potential donors to “invest,” to use her favorite word for higher state spending. Charlie Baker’s money advantage showed up in the final weeks when he was able to greatly outspend his rival in advertising.

4. Did Baker outsource his political instincts? It’s odd that the former head of Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare accepted an “Outsourcing Excellence Award” — wearing a tuxedo, no less — when he must have known that if he again ran for office a Democratic opponent would try to Romneyize him, i.e. depict him as a cold-hearted capitalist who put “profits ahead of working people.”

5. Coakley didn’t know her record on political corruption. She repeatedly said in debate that she’d stand “on my record,” but the Boston Globe reported she was factually wrong in her claims during a debate about political corruption cases. This boosted suspicion that she also wasn’t right in denying charges from a former inspector general, Gregory Sullivan, that she failed to take action to investigate charges that led to federal conviction of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi.

6. Baker thought reporters were sweethearts. When the Republican candidate was already suffering a “gender gap” in polls, he made a couple of gaffes that sounded sexist to some. He called a well-respected TV reporter “sweetheart,” quickly apologizing by saying he considered her a “friend.” Journalists, committed to being objective, understandably don’t want politicians to call them friends. But his gaffe in explaining his gaffe pointed up something reported by David Bernstein in Boston magazine: Since his 2010 loss, Baker had been very successful in his charm offensive with the media.

7. Coakley taxed our patience. After losing to Scott Brown in 2010, one would have thought Coakley would have been better prepared to handle criticism on predictable issues like taxes. It was one thing for her not to know how much the gas tax was — although, given that it is a ballot referendum question, it’s hard to believe she had no idea how much it was and would guess it was so low. Equally hard to believe, she changed her position in debates from support of a graduated income tax to saying she didn't favor it… and “joked” about not wanting to raise fees.

8. Baker cried. In the final debate, Baker lost his composure in recounting the last time he wept — meeting a fisherman who felt he had ruined his sons’ lives by telling them they couldn't accept college scholarships and had to work in the family fishing business. No major candidate in memory has ever been as emotional in a debate. The next day, however, it was reported that Baker had been telling this story for five years. While he hadn't claimed that his encounter was recent, that was the impression viewers had — otherwise, why was he so distraught? It was also reported that journalists were unable to locate a New Bedford fisherman who fit his description. Baker allowed that he got some details wrong and argued there could be 10 fisherman who could have told him the same tale — but that raised the question: If it were so common a story, why was he so emotional? Coakley supporters asked why he didn't do anything about the fisherman’s plight, other than telling his story. Ironically, Baker won his primary against a man named Fisher. By the way, Mark Fisher was not nearly as emotional as Baker when he claimed that allies of Baker had rigged the Republican state convention vote against him.

9. The Coakley campaign was so conventional. Her handlers had the campaign on cruise-control during the primary, and as a result she ended up winning by a relatively small margin. Her ads were uninspiring and she didn't have a compelling message. How much of this ineptitude was the fault of her strategists…and how much was the candidate’s fault? Coakley will be the one who is blamed, but apparently the team she selected failed her in important respects.

10. Democratic domination hurts the Democratic candidate. Coakley did not have a good rebuttal to Baker’s argument that the public needs “balance on Beacon Hill,” which is one reason why so many newspapers endorsed the Republican. Coakley is trying to come on strong at the end with a concerted get-out-thevote operation but she suffers from there not being hotly contested state races where other Democratic candidates can draw voters to the polls for her. There is no Elizabeth Warren on the ballot. And while AG candidate Maura Healey is popular with the Democratic base, she is not considered to be in danger of losing. So Coakley might be feeling like she is on her own — as she was in the special election against Brown in 2010. Déjà vu is not the feeling she wanted in the final hours of this long campaign.

Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

Todd Domke Twitter Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

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