If you're reading this article, lured by the name "Martha Coakley" in the headline, we don't need to spend a lot of time on the backstory. Coakley is, of course, the Massachusetts attorney general who hoped to succeed Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate after his death in 2009. She led that race by a wide margin, trotting along toward victory -- this was Massachusetts, after all -- in the early 2010 special election. And then she tripped and stumbled and gaffed, and Scott Brown trotted right past her, winning by five points and becoming a national figure. Coakley had become a national figure, too, but in a different and less good way.
Coakley is running for major statewide office in Massachusetts again, this time for governor. And it seemed quite possible that she'd trot to victory here, too, same as it seemed last time; a big early lead thanks in part to the name recognition from her last efforts. Then she nearly tripped in the Democratic primary, beating former DNC chairman Steve Grossman by a closer-than-anticipated eight points. It was still a win, but that dark shadow appeared to be back, a cloud like you'd see in a turn-of-the-century political cartoon: "2010."
And now the Boston Globe has a new poll evaluating how Coakley is likely to fare in the November general against Republican Charlie Baker, who tried to oust Gov. Deval Patrick (D) in 2010 and lost. Polling in the race has consistently shown Coakley ahead, often by double digits. The Globe's new poll puts Baker up by two. For statistical purposes, the race is about even. But for Coakley observers, it seems like another sign that the clouds are thickening.
We (people who write about politics; people who read about politics) like the sorts of stories that Coakley generated in 2010: Her mistakes about Curt Schilling being a Yankee fan and her disdain for shaking hands in cold weather. But even first-blush analysis of that race pointed out that Brown's win was thanks, in large part, to frustration from independent voters in the state.
This was 2010, after all -- the year of the tea party's ascent and the Republican march into the House of Representatives. Coakley wasn't Obama, but the president's national approval rating had just dipped under 50 percent for the first time, according to Gallup. Plus, the fight over Obamacare was huge, and conservatives saw the race as their chance to stop it in its tracks. More than half the country opposed the plan as Massachusetts went to the polls to elect either the 60th Democrat to push the law through or the 41st Republican to ensure it could be filibustered. Not to mention that it was a special election. Turnout was relatively high -- over 50 percent, which is higher than turnout for Sen. Ed Markey's (D) special election win in 2013 -- but far lower than the record-high in 2012.
So now here's Coakley again, running in an off-year race as increasing attention is paid to the unpopularity of Barack Obama. In Massachusetts, Obama's favorability is underwater by two points. Among independents, the crucial voting bloc that helped sink Coakley in 2010, he's disapproved of by a 16-point spread, according to the Globe poll. Turnout in November is expected to be low, which, the Globe's pollster probably unnecessarily points out, will help the Republican Baker, not Coakley.
None of which is to say that Martha Coakley is a pure politician, whose natural gifts have been wracked by the tumultuous seas of national politics. It is, instead, to say that Coakley has a remarkable knack for running for high office right when the weather turns nasty. Storm clouds and rough seas. Apt metaphors for a political race in Massachusetts in general -- but particularly, it seems, when Martha Coakley is out of port.