Is it deja vu all over again for Martha Coakley in Massachusetts?


Martha Coakley.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is miles ahead of her Democratic gubernatorial opponents before next week's primary, according to a new poll from the Boston Globe. Unfortunately, that luck doesn't extend to November. Her likely Republican opponent, Charlie Baker, now leads Coakley by 1 percent in the Globe poll. The lead is with the poll's margin of error, but this is the first time this has happened in the race.

Sounds familiar. Remember him?

Coakley has waded through a particular brutal primary, so the disappearing margin between her and Baker, a former governor's aide and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, was probably inevitable. A super PAC backed by the Republican Governors Association, called Commonwealth Future PAC, has been running ads against Coakley.

Many of the negative ads funded by Democrats, mostly supporting state Treasurer Steve Grossman, have targeted Coakley. Baker's favorability ratings have been rising, while Coakley's have dropped slightly.

John Della Volpe, who runs the firm that conducted the poll, says that the Republican candidate may be helped by Democratic voters whose candidate doesn't make it past next week, and who don't like Coakley. Grossman supporters "really don’t like Martha Coakley," he told the Boston Globe. "As [the primary election] is getting closer, as differences are being sharpened between the [Grossman and Coakley] campaigns, the Grossman voters are liking Martha Coakley even less.”

However, if Grossman or another primary candidate was to beat Coakley, Baker would start with an even bigger lead in the polls. In a match-up against Grossman, Baker leads by 4 percentage points. Against Berwick, he leads by 25 percentage points.

Given Coakley's loss in the 2010 Senate race to Scott Brown (who is currently running in the New Hampshire Senate race), many Democrats were worried about her ability to win this year. A Democratic strategist told the Boston Globe in September 2013“Even though she dominates in the surveys, the Democratic activists remain concerned about her ability to perform as a candidate in the long run. They understand she could unravel at any moment in a tough general election race.’’

Add a year's worth of attacks from Democratic and Republican opponents and the increased omnipresence of outside groups in the past four years, and Coakley's chances of victory have remained just as hard to reach — despite the fact that she has definitely learned from many of the criticisms leveled against her in 2010 (look at all the hands she's shaking, even at Fenway!)

However, the Democrats who don't like Coakley in the heat of the primary may change their mind after next week, when she is likely all that's left. The race is close, but by no means over — but even a suggestion that Coakley's election record could repeat itself likely isn't comforting for her campaign.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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Jaime Fuller · August 29