Why is Brown leading Coakley?
In the race to fill Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat, Republican Scott Brown appears to be ahead of Democrat Martha Coakley -- leading prognosticator Charlie Cook declares the race a toss-up but "put[s] a finger on the scale for Brown." The GOP is revitalized, it seems, and conservatives are as gleeful as they've been in a long, long time.
But why is Brown ahead? Why is a Republican leading in a solidly Democratic state in a race to fill the seat of a Democratic legend?
A lot of it surely has to do with the fact that Coakley has proven to be a terrible candidate, while Brown, who has a history of playing to the Palin-teabagging far right, has successfully tapped into seething Republican anger and resentment at a time when Democrats are split over Obama and health-care reform and are generally unenthusiastic. (2008 seems like such a long, long time ago.) Indeed, I think Paul Krugman hit the nail on the head today:
Wow. A video clip has surfaced from 2008 in which Scott Brown, the Republican candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, clearly suggested that President Obama may have been born out of wedlock.
I'm sure some will try to dismiss this as an isolated stray remark. But it's clear if you watch the video that there's a broader context: Brown is clearly aligning himself with the Limbaugh wing of the GOP, in which slurs along these lines are standard fare. And as Steve Benen points out, claims about Obama's illegitimacy were an integral part of the birther craziness.
So will this actually make political waves? If Brown were a Democrat, it would instantly be a huge scandal. The outrage machine would be working overtime. And the news media would, of course, pick it up.
But Democrats don’t have the same kind of outrage infrastructure. Can they nevertheless find a way to use this? I guess we’ll soon find out.
We will, but the key is that Republicans are extremely successful at translating outrage into electoral success. Sure, some Democrats are angry at Obama over health care, angry that he didn't do enough to push for more robust reform, as well as angry that he hasn't been progressive enough with respect to national security and other key issues, but the Republican "outrage machine," matched only by the Republican smear machine, has unified Republicans in a way that just isn't even possible for Democrats, who are far more likely to succumb to internecine strife. And the media, who tend to buy into Republican propaganda and highlight Democratic strife, have established a narrative that comes right from the playbook of, as they are essentially a conduit to the public for, the "outrage machine."
So why is Brown ahead? Because Republicans are outraged and pissed off and unified behind smears, and because Democrats are deeply divided and somewhat apathetic, and because the media are promulgating the Republican narrative and declaring it to be the truth. For all Coakley's faults, this seems to be what's going on -- and it seems to be why the voters of a decidedly blue state may well elect a suck-up-to-Limbaugh Republican at a time when the country can ill-afford any more Republicans in the Senate.
There will be a lot of blame to go around if Coakley loses, and Coakley and her campaign will deserve much for it, but the reality is that the Republicans are extremely effective when they're outraged.
Update: According to CNN, "[m]ultiple advisers to President Obama have privately told party officials that they believe... Coakley is going to lose."
Obama was in Massachusetts campaigning for Coakley on Sunday. A Coakley loss will be interpreted by Republicans as a major defeat for Obama, but, while Obama ought to be blamed, somewhat, perhaps, for losing the support of progressives and some of the Democratic base, I'm not so sure he could have done all that much for Coakley. Again, she's run a bad campaign, and the Republican smear/outrage machine is in full swing.