The "Kennedy seat" attitude isn't helping

The impulse was so obvious that Republicans in Massachusetts wondered what took Democrats so long to indulge it.  Everyone knew that Vicki Kennedy, the widow of late Senator Ted Kennedy, would eventually make a public pitch for Martha Coakley as the true, legitimate heir to the “Kennedy seat.”  What no one could have predicted is that it would backfire (via Jules Crittenden):

Big-name Kennedy endorsements for Martha Coakley appear to have been little help to the Democrat in the U.S. Senate race – and may have even hurt her with some voters, a new Suffolk University/7News poll shows.

The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, and nephew Joseph Kennedy II gave the attorney general their official blessing last week.

But of the 500 voters surveyed, only 20 percent said the Kennedy family nod made them more likely to vote for Coakley, and 27 percent said the endorsement made them less likely to support her. …

“For independents, it doesn’t appear to have a positive effect. In fact, it may have had a negative effect,” said David Paleologis, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.

They apparently were looking for a little Change, and perhaps some Hope, too — that the voters could actually select their own Senator without the presumption that it was reserved for royalty, or the nobility’s hand-picked successors.  Part of the problem may be the timing.  Vicki Kennedy didn’t endorse anyone during the entire special-election cycle until two weeks before the election — and then only when Coakley began to look vulnerable.  The whiff of desperation is not usually a political aphrodisiac, even in Massachusetts.

After last night’s big shocker in the Suffolk poll showing Brown up by four points, even with a Democratic sample of +24, Pajamas Media’s new poll in the state puts Brown up by … fifteen points?

A new poll taken Thursday evening for Pajamas Media by CrossTarget – an Alexandria VA survey research firm – shows Scott Brown, a Republican, leading Martha Coakley, a Democrat, by 15.4% in Tuesday’s special election for the open Massachusetts US Senate seat. The poll of 946 likely voters was conducted by telephone using interactive voice technology (IVR) and has a margin of error of +/- 3.19%.

This is the first poll to show Brown surging to such an extent. A poll from the Suffolk University Political Research Center – published Thursday morning by the Boston Herald, but taken earlier – had Brown moving ahead by 4%. …

1. Thinking about next Tuesday’s special election for US Senate. The candidates are Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley. If the election were today, who would you vote for? If Scott Brown press 1, if Martha Coakley press 2. If you are undecided press 3.
1. Scott Brown 53.9%
2. Martha Coakley 38.5%
3. Undecided 7.6%

Phone-IVR polls are a tricky business, and I’m not aware of the track record of CrossTarget.  They have a partisan gap of +16 for Democrats, with 43% independents.  That may seem a little low for Democrats in Massachusetts, but +24 is probably too high.  Barack Obama beat John McCain in 2008 by 26 points after getting an extraordinary turnout and much more Republican crossover than Coakley will have in this election.  If I had to guess, I’d put the registration gap somewhere around +20 and Democrats at a higher percentage of the population than 36%,  but put the turnout model closer to what CrossTarget shows in its poll.

The Washington Post is already setting up Coakley for the fall:

The seeds of the drama that could see the Senate seat held by the late Edward M. Kennedy slip to Republican control began to sprout during what is traditionally the quietest week on the political calendar.

“Things began to change the week between Christmas and New Year’s,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a strategist for insurgent Republican Scott Brown. “That’s the week we put our JFK ad up.”

The commercial, which aired for only five days, depicted John F. Kennedy, the Democratic congressman who 58 years ago ran an insurgent campaign to capture the Republican-held “Cabot seat,” morphing into Brown, the obscure state senator who surveys suggest might do the same with what’s become known as the “Kennedy seat” when grumpy Massachusetts voters go to the polls on Tuesday.

But although the audacious spot was ripe for challenge — the tax breaks JFK trumpeted were the calibrated adjustments of a committed Keynesian, hardly a philosophy embraced by Brown — not a peep was heard from the campaign of Martha Coakley. Having won the Democratic primary by remaining the aloof front-runner, the state attorney general was not about to engage with a Republican whom the latest poll showed trailing her by 30 points.

“Not a bad strategy, by the way,” Fehrnstrom acknowledged. “But when the shift in voter mood and opinion takes place, and you fail to catch it, then it becomes a disaster. And I think that’s what happened with her. I think she did not sense the movement in what they should have known was a very volatile electorate.”

Get ready for the spin: Coakley was a bad candidate — it has nothing to do with national policy.  You’ll be hearing that a lot if Brown wins on Tuesday, and it’s at least somewhat true.  Coakley is a bad candidate.  But even bad candidates win elections in Massachusetts, as John Kerry’s continued presence in the Senate demonstrates.  There’s a lot more going on here than Coakley’s incompetence, and every Senate Democrat that has to vote on ObamaCare knows it.

If ObamaCare gets a Republican elected in Massachusetts, what does that mean for Democrats in Arkansas?  Nebraska?  Indiana?  Pennsylvania?  We may not need Brown as the 41st vote against cloture by the time the polls close on Tuesday night.