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Coakley concedes race: five lessons from her campaign

As Martha Coakley concedes the Massachusetts Senate race to Scott Brown, political analysts are already drawing lessons for the midterm elections later this year.

By Tracey D. SamuelsonCorrespondent / January 20, 2010

Democratic candidate for the US Senate Martha Coakley concedes defeat in the special election to fill the Senate seat of the late Edward Kennedy, in Boston on Tuesday night.

Brian Snyder/Reuters

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Boston

Scott Brown went from long-shot candidate to the next senator from Massachusetts Tuesday – a feat that a Republican candidate has not accomplished in this state since 1972.

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Martha Coakley – the heavy favorite coming out of the Dec. 8 primary – could not hang on to the seat that Edward Kennedy occupied for 47 years, maintain the Democrats’ 60-seat supermajority in Congress, or stem the flow of voters to Mr. Brown’s camp.

Ms. Coakley’s disappointments are to likely inform both Democratic and Republican strategies for the midterm elections later this year. As Brown said in his acceptance speech: “What happened in this election can happen all over America.”

With midterms already approaching, what lessons can be drawn from Coakley’s campaign?

1. Playing it safe can be risky

“Sometimes, the biggest risk you can take in politics is not to take a risk,” Todd Domke, a Massachusetts-based GOP strategist, said about Coakley’s campaign strategy prior to Tuesday’s election.

Coakley was running as a Democrat in a state routinely ranked as one of the most Democratic in the US. So perhaps she could be forgiven for thinking that the race was decided in the primary. But voters were angry that she seemed to act that way. She was repeatedly accused of complacency and dogged by persistent rumors that she took a week off from campaigning around Christmas – a charge her camp denies.

“[Tuesday night] really expressed the arrogance of the Democratic Party and the entitlement mentality of the party,” said Rick Livingstone, who volunteered for the Brown campaign.

2. Voters are angry

“[Voters’ positions] haven’t shifted so much as they’ve gotten angry,” says Dan Payne, a Democratic media consultant based in Massachusetts. “They don’t feel they’re getting their money’s worth in Washington.”

Among the hot-button issues: the way healthcare reform is being handled, America’s lingering economic troubles, high unemployment rates, and Wall Street bonuses.

“I didn’t want to complain anymore, I wanted to do something,” said Jeff Odhner, a Republican from New Hampshire who drove to Massachusetts three nights last week to make hours of phone calls for Brown.

3. Define the opposition

Coakley left a little-known Brown relatively unscathed for much of the early part of the campaign.

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