1 Baker and Coakley 1

^ Coakley or Baker / Most voters will decide during the next week

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By the end of next week — October 18th — almost all voters will have made up their mionds whether they’ll pick Charlie Baker or Martha Coakley. After that, whoever finds him or herself behind will have very few voters to win a strong majority of.

Charlie Baker looks in second place as we go into this crucial week. His campaign, so strong all summer long and after, so full of reformist optimism and powerful command, has lost its duende. Not all of that is his doing. the Children’s Defense Fund, anti-caokley ad knocked baker off message and, somehow, sucked him intlo iyts current. He should have known better. The ad completely misjudges how Massachusetts government operates,and it draws the opposite conclusion to the truth about what Martha Coakley is not. (Her problem is narrow zealotry, not reticence.) But Baker, instead of spurning the ad altogether — decrying, even, its ignorance — tried to have it both ways : “I don’t like the ad, but it has a point.’ Something like that is what he said.

Baker’s biggest mistake in this whole campaign has been his attempt to stand on both sides of controversial issues. That’s OK — maybe — if you’re already elected. it’s disastrous when you’re still a candidate. as a candidate you must — MUST — take a stand all-in on one side of a major issue ; that’s how you demonstrate to the voters that you are committed to policies that most of them (hopefully most of them) want.

Baker wants to be a centrist candidate ? Good; but the “center” does not lie in Straddle Country.

It took Baker all the way to the end of September to go all-in on values issues that the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters want : women’s health care rights and equality for LGBTQ people. That was good, and true : Baker has always been committed to these positions, but until he SAID it, his campaign rhetoric sent an opposite signal.

Baker now has only a few days in which to go all-in on committing his administration to the needs of people living in crisis, or receiving public assistance, and to the most effective, job-improving school policy.

So far, his campaign plan’s welfare policy reads like blaming welfare recipients for being recipients. He seems to blame recipients for the “fraud” found in welfare administration ; whereas the actual “fraud” — which doesn’t amount to much in dollar terms — arises almost all from poor administration.

Baker’s early education plan, which calls for different school projects for different needs — a sensible policy — sounds as if he doesn’t see the need for it except in a few cases. Meanwhile Martha Coakley is all-in on universal pre-kindergarten. Her position may be too sweeping : but voters embrace the commitment. Baker’s “I don’t like one size its all’ reads like straddle.

Baker’s straddle campaign almost certainly arises from his desire to keep the rejectionist half of tour state’s Republican voters from bolting. The stench of the crypt has hung around Baker’s campaign almost from its start. it’s why he chose Karyn Polito, rather than a more progressive figure, such as Gabe Gomez, as a running mate. (That Polito turned out to be the campaigning surprise, a powerful and caring presence — a Paul Cellucci twin — could not have been foreseen at the time.) The rejectionist threat is why Baker worked so hard to keep the toxic Mark Fisher out of his hair; it’s why Baker missed the bus on Paid Sick Leave. it’s why he imposes a job search requirement on welfare recipients.

The rejectionist Republicans count maybe six percent of Massachusetts voters. Their presence, as a crucial component of a Baker victory now threatens to make that victory unlikely. Baker made a pact with the devil when he gave these voters space in his campaign message. He should have cut them loose long ago and gone all-in on compassionate reform.

Martha Coakley, meanwhile, has become masterful at saying nothing — generalities ‘r’ us — in a very pleasing, conversational, fireside chat way. She does it at debates and looks — and sounds — like the most reasonble person in the room. She speaks in a voice that listens. That’s a marvelous gift.

During the Primary campaign, Coakley was able to finesse the passionate Steve Grossman; all of his comprehensive knowledge of every important state governance issue, and all of his often brilliant policy initiatives, didn’t triumph over Coakley’s easy-going conversation.

Coakley right now is a formidable opponent who has been handed several issues by Baker’s wrong-footing and straddle. Because Democrats outnumber all Republicans in Massachusets by three to one, she will win this election — that Baker leads among independents, the majority of voters, can’t counter this math — unless Baker very quickly finds a way to steer his message back to what he seemed to represent all summer long : positive reform that works for everybody, and an all-in commitment to the needs and aspirations of every part of diverse Massachusetts, from communities of color to immigrants to working families being left behind, and to single moms overtaxed by family crises every day.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere