Boston’s mayoral election next month isn’t the only upcoming vote with an apparently forgone outcome. In the race to fill the Senate seat vacated by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, it looks increasingly likely that Attorney General Martha Coakley will cruise to an easy victory.
The latest good news for Coakley’s campaign comes in the form of endorsements from almost half of Massachusetts’ state legislators. According to today’s Boston Globe, 88 of the state’s 200 legislators support her candidacy.
Even before the endorsements, Coakley showed a huge lead in recent polls, thanks largely to her high name recognition in the state. A Suffolk University poll conducted mid-September of likely Democratic primary voters showed Coakley leading her main challenger, Rep. Mike Capuano, 47-9 margin.
In any election, that kind of gap would be nearly impossible to overcome without the help of a monumental political faux pas—refusing to kiss a baby because it is “too ugly” while simultaneously robbing a bank and disparaging every minority group in the state might do the trick.
But in this special election, with such a short time left before voters hit the polls, there is simply not enough time for a challenger to effectively get their message out to voters and chip away at any kind of lead. The primary is scheduled for Dec. 8, with the general election just over a month after that. Campaigns take an enormous amount of time to pull together; a slapdash operation cannot be thrown together overnight and sent out across the state to target potential voters with talking points.
This is especially true in primary elections since the general public typically treats them with the same excitement as they would a loaf of bread. In primaries, candidates’ positions are often indistinguishable. Voters with no invested interest are unlikely to hit the polls unless they see an important difference between their party’s choices.
With no time to distinguish himself from Coakley in a way that would resonate with voters before the primary, Capuano’s only chance would be to garner high profile endorsements and hope for prominent media coverage. Endorsements can carry significant weight, especially among undecided voters. Yet, with the long list of politicians already lined up behind Coakley, it’s unlikely Capuano can count on that to carry his campaign.
Should Coakley win, she should also have no trouble in the general election. Massachusetts is a strong Democratic state, so much so that just the presence of a (D) next to a candidates name is practically enough to win office. The same Suffolk University poll showed Coakley with a 54-24 lead in the general election over the Republican frontrunner, state Sen. Scott Brown.
As important as representative democracy is, this special election is shaping up to be an exercise in pointlessness, one that highlights a drawback to our political system as a whole. Political platforms in this race are, by a wide margin, tertiary to name recognition and party affiliation.
Whether or not Coakley’s positions make her a good candidate for the job, she will most likely waltz into office primarily for these reasons.