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How Martha Coakley misread the tea leaves in Boston Harbor

Win or lose, Martha Coakley’s Massachusetts senate race campaign will influence Democratic strategy in a tough election year. And the result could have major impact on Obama’s agenda.

By Staff writer / January 16, 2010

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate vying for the seat vacated by the death of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, shakes hands with union supporters during a stop in Boston on Saturday.

Charles Krupa/AP

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Win or lose in Tuesday’s Massachusetts senate race, Democrat Martha Coakley may rue a major strategic mistake: Misreading the tea leaves stirring again in Boston Harbor.

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For an out-of-left-field state senator named Scott Brown – a purplish Republican in the bluest of blue states – to come close to winning Senate lion Ted Kennedy’s long-Democratic seat is stunning. Should he win, analysts agree, it’ll be confirmation that the political universe has shuddered and realigned, with major implications for President Obama’s progressive agenda in Washington by breaking the Democrats’ hold on the Senate.

“If Brown wins this election, it will be the shot heard around the world,” Rhode Island Tea Party President Colleen Conley tells the Boston Herald. “This will be a clear indictment of the Obama presidency and the Democratic Congress overreaching.”

Trying to stave off a surging Brown, who moved ahead in one poll on Thursday, Coakley’s campaign is now charging full-bore, calling in what the Monitor calls “the big guns”: former president Bill Clinton and, on Sunday, President Barack Obama, who had earlier said he wouldn’t campaign for Coakley.

Coakley's 'Rose Garden' strategy

To be sure, even liberal strategists in Massachusetts now admit privately and in the media that Coakley’s “oh-so-insider” strategy and the air of inevitability some commentators called the Rose Garden strategy, failed to match the public’s mood. Brown may have closed the distance with the single phrase: “It isn’t Ted Kennedy’s seat, it belongs to the people of Massachusetts.”

“[Coakley’s] response, at crunch time, is to rely on the White House and the Democratic National Committee – even as her opponent is imploring voters to vote for ‘me against the machine’,” writes Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker. “His message is resonating. Her strategy isn’t.”

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