^ difficult days for Charlie baker, good days for Martha Coakley and Don Berwick
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Two rulings handed down by the Supreme Court last week threaten to affect Massachusetts’s Governor election significantly. the boost Martha Coakley — already a clear favorite –and Don Berwick, and they set back those of Steve Grossman and Charlie Baker.
The Hobby Lobby ruling has the wider impact. Because it allows corporations to deny contraceptive health care to women on grounds of “deeply held religious faith”: — faith that permits men to obtain Viagra, by the way — it arouses all women voters : score for Coakley. but because the High Court also suggested that women could obtain contraceptive health care from the Federal government as part of Medicare, it seemed to endorse the “single payer” (Medicare) system : and that’s a score for Don Berwick, who has made adoption of “single payer a priority of his campaign.
The Buffer Zone Law ruling — it was found unconstitutional by 9 to 0 — probably impacts the campaign even more deeply. The law at issue was our state’s. Hobby Lobbys there are none here, and few corporations that would use religion as a route to denying health care to women. But every woman who seeks clinical advice on a pregnancy is now faced with being confronted by perfect strangers getting into these women’ s most personal private body business. It;s not a prospect that anyone I know would welcome. It has happened to me, on other matters. I was able to see off, with a pleasantry or an unanswerable question, these interrupters of my life. Women confronted so might not be so lucky, nor want to chance it. And even though the Buffer Zone Law ruling was unanimous, and certainly correct from a first amendment point of view — after all, as a supporter of the ruling pointed out to me, the Curt allows panhandlers to be in our faces, what’s different here ? — women affected won’t take it as such. They will feel, see, almost smell the confrontations they now must put up with, ad they can’t like that the Court put them in that space.
Martha Coakley defended the Buffer Law fiercely. She has promised to forge a different means of safeguarding women from such confrontations. So has Governor Patrick. i hope they find a way, because otherwise it means hiring hundreds of special duty police to patrol outside pregnancy clinics.
While Coakley has gone on the attack — as she should — Charlie Baker has said nothing. He has avoided the issue. I fully understand. It aggravates his weaknesses. As the GOP candidate, he heads a coalition that includes the state’s “pro life” voters, who tolerate his solid pro-choice position because they suspect that he will, at least, listen to them and will not make protection of women’s health rights a priority, and because they know that Coakley, Berwick, and Grossman will in fact make women’s health care a priority. I think these Baker voters are right, and that’s the problem; I suspect that the crucial block of women voters who will decide this election also know it.
Or, if they didn’t know it, or care much, because women’s health rights are so firmly established in Massachusetts, they do now care because even in Massachusetts those tights are now threatened by Supreme Court decisions.
Baker has not had a good two weeks. Today’s Boston Globe poll has him losing to Coakley by 40 to 31 and drawing only 9 % of Democratic voters. In Massachusetts a GOP candidate usually needs 18 to 20 %^ of Democrats to win — in his 2012 loss, Scott Brown won 12 % of Democrats. (I shall analyze the Globe poll in a separate column to come later today.) The recent WBUR poll had even les good news for Baker. It showed him losing to Coakley 42 to 28; and though it also shows him beating Steve Grossman and trouncing Don Berwick, Coakley has maintained a strong lead almost throughout this year and can only get stronger as a result of the High court rulings. Baker’s campaign has also begun to narrow its focus : business, business, business. we all like businesses; but Massachusetts is a “values” state — fortunately our values are entirely progressive ones — and for Baker to not step to the forefront of voicing Massachusetts values is to concede the election. No more can — or should — a Massachusetts election be only about business than it can be only about Labor.
When a candidate narrows his focus, retreating to his core, as did the campaign of Scott Brown in 2012 after polls turned against him, it’s a sign that he is being pushed out of the center. Baker ran a smart, aggressive, ground breaking campaign until mid-June, one that connected him city voters, voicing city voters’ concerns and turning the flank of a very suburban, high-income Democratic Primary. now that has all changed. The Democrats have taken back much of the city voter action. they’ve held Forums in the city, dug deeply into voters who have been theirs all along until for six months or so they were ignored.
Baker will still do better in the big cities than Scott Brown did. He can’t be dislodged in Essex County, and he likely has a solid core of support in Worcester. In Boston, too, he holds strong cards in several ethnic communities. But I see no sign right now that the receptivity to baker that held sway six weeks ago still rules. How can it after these two Court rulings ? For women voters, it’s now war time. And war time means, fr these women, supporting Martha Coakley, like her or not. My guess is that the Court rulings gain her two to four points — a lot in what might have been a close election.
The only person who I see with a chance to stop Coakley is Don Berwick. In a Democratic Primary, his strong advocacy of single payer now makes timely sense, compelling sense. and if he is not a woman, as is Coakley, he is trusted by Democratic activists, as Coakley is not, and addresses Massachusetts values far more eloquently than Coakley and with passion that she utterly lacks. Given that Grossman cannot out-woman Coakley or even begin to compete with Berwick’s passionate advocacy, it would mot surprise me to see Berwick win the Primary.
Could he then beat Baker ? In such a race baker would be the Coakley : the hard to pin down, long explanation, out of focus candidate — versus Berwick, the ultimate heat of passion candidate. Baker could win that comparison if he sounds wise and competent, as he usually can, and Berwick sounds like a hell-burner, as he often does.
As far as I can tell right now, this prospect is Baker’s only chance of winning the office he is so naturally fit to perform.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere