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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Denial is a river

A week after Charlie Baker failed to achieve his preordained destiny, the folks who ran his campaign are still in a state of denial. If not for Tim Cahill, says campaign adviser Rob Gray, Baker would be making inaugural plans.

But the reality of the 2010 election dynamic was neatly summed up by the Globe's Frank Phillips at an election post-mortem sponsored by MSL Boston, a local PR firm.
“I always say Charlie Baker reminds women of their ex-husbands, and why they left them. As a candidate, I know Charlie Baker and that was not the Charlie Baker I’ve known for almost 30 years. Charlie’s not that person.”
I must have been deja vu all over again for Gray, who ran Kerry Healey's unsuccessful campaign against Deval Patrick in 2006. And Gray was willing to hand Patrick (and his campaign adviser Doug Rubin) props for running an excellent race.

But Gray focused largely on Cahill's numbers that he insists spelled Baker's doom from the start. And while it is true Republican candidates in Massachusetts have a narrow window in which to operate, it was more than Cahill's mere presence that doomed Baker.

Let's start with the Republican Governors Association ads that inundated the airwaves starting in the late spring. The RGA is an independent expenditure organization and Baker could not control their content. But he was tarred early by the vitriol aimed at Cahill.

That problem was compounded by the Baker camp's failure to effectively introduce their own man -- a problem that persisted late into the campaign with surprisingly large percentages of voters who had no opinion about the candidate.

But if Gray really wants to point a finger at the Cahill effect, he need look further than his own campaign's botched response to L'Affaire Loscocco, and when Baker embraced the turncoat Cahill running mate.

Those voters who weren't amused by the follies were likely appalled by the open and vivid display of "politics as usual." While Gray cites numbers showing that was truly the end of the Cahill candidacy, he skirts over numbers that showed his own candidate tarred by the same brush.

With less than a month to go and an unusually high percentage of voters still uncertain about Baker it was lethal.

Which brings us back to Phillips' observation. We now have a candidate who came across as the angry white man (targeting that very voter demographic), applauding rather than condemning blatant power politics. At that point, no amount of soft focus, warm and fuzzy commercials about the real Baker could change an image the campaign worked so hard to create in the first place.

Cahill was Baker's downfall only in the sense that Gray and his team worked to neutralize him by creating a candidate who wasn't very likable and running him against one who, while saddled with his own baggage, was perceived by the public as empathetic and sincere.

Like Ahab with Moby Dick, Gray's obsession with the whale was his downfall.

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