Coakley Team Warned of Problems With Independents in December; Memo Said National Democrats ‘Not Helping Us Much’

By Matt Loffman

Jan 19, 2010 4:46pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Amid the finger-pointing and recriminations surrounding today’s special election in Massachusetts, a Democratic source sent over a campaign polling memo from December that outlines some potential problems that Democrat Martha Coakley could face in her campaign — including the possibility that President Obama and national Democrats could be a drag on her candidacy. The internal campaign poll, conducted Dec. 17-21 showed Coakley with a commanding 19-point lead over Republican Scott Brown, coming out of the hard-fought Democratic primary campaign. But the memo — reprinted in full below — summarizing the poll’s finding identified several potential problem areas. Among those areas: a weakness among independent voters, and the potential for national Democrats and Obama himself to drag Coakley down, in part because of health care. “On one hand, her strength of support is obviously a positive dynamic. One [sic] the other hand, we are underperforming both our personal popularity and our job performance ratings, even [after] voters hear that Brown is lucifer and Martha is the second coming,” read the memo from Daniel R. Gotoff of Lake Research Partners. “Over the next weeks, our task is to consolidate Democrats and break even among independents. We do pretty well at that right now, but there are about a quarter of Democrats who aren't yet voting for us. And while we have a marginal lead among independents, they will be a battleground throughout this race.” “The independents in MA today look pretty conservative, and the national political context is not helping us much. Obama, whose job performance is already just barely net positive, is rated solidly negatively by a majority of independents. What's more, these voters oppose the health care plan, are pro-death penalty, and would like to keep the Bush tax cuts in place when the issue positions are attached to Coakley and Brown (the opposite is true when the candidates' names are not associated).” As Politico’s Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin are reporting, Coakley advisers are blaming national Democrats for not providing sufficient support to her campaign. From the White House perspective, in a roundtable with print reporters today, White House senior adviser David Axelrod praised Brown has having run “a very clever campaign” — and said President Obama would have done more for Coakley if asked. "The White House did everything we were asked to do," Axelrod said. "I think if we had been asked earlier, we would have responded earlier." UPDATE: A Democratic Party official responded with this statement: "Let's be clear.  The only thing that changed between the Dec 19th poll, where the Coakley campaign had 20 point lead, and the January 5th poll, where their lead had been halved, is that the Brown campaign went on air and aggressively defined their candidate as well as the Democratic candidate, while the Democratic candidate was literally on a vacation.  During that period, the Coakley campaign did no further polling, advertising, or ID'ing of supporters despite having a significant fundraising advantage.  "As Scott Brown himself conceded this race wasn't defined by feelings about the president.  This race was defined by the lack of defining done by the Coakley campaign."  Gotoff’s memo — which I’m told was circulated inside the Coakley campaign and to national Democrats, including at the White House — reads: Team: Attached are the topline results from the just-completed survey. The findings are very encouraging, with a few notes of caution. Six weeks out, Martha is in strong shape: personally popular, seen to be doing a good job in her current office, and perceived as a strong leader who has the right experience to be MA's next U.S. Senator. Martha's lead right now is commanding, though there is noticeably little movement across the various ballots. In the initial trial heat, Martha starts out with 51% of the vote to Brown's 32%, and 5% for J. Kennedy. After we introduce the candidates, Martha moves up to 52-53% and Brown to 33-34%. Kennedy holds his support where it started. After we attack ourselves and re-ballot, our support moves back down to 51% and Brown sticks at 35%. And after we attack Brown and re-ballot, we grow to 55%, Brown drops to 30%, with 5% for JK. The lack of movement across the ballots can be taken two ways. On one hand, her strength of support is obviously a positive dynamic. One the other hand, we are underperforming both our personal popularity and our job performance ratings, even voters hear that Brown is lucifer and Martha is the second coming. Over the next weeks, our task is to consolidate Democrats and break even among independents. We do pretty well at that right now, but there are about a quarter of Democrats who aren't yet voting for us. And while we have a marginal lead among independents, they will be a battleground throughout this race. The independents in MA today look pretty conservative, and the national political context is not helping us much. Obama, whose job performance is already just barely net positive, is rated solidly negatively by a majority of independents. What's more, these voters oppose the health care plan, are pro-death penalty, and would like to keep the Bush tax cuts in place when the issue positions are attached to Coakley and Brown (the opposite is true when the candidates' names are not associated).
 
Independents do like Martha and think she has the right experience to be Senator, but still need to be convinced. The messages that move them most revolve around her record of protecting the most vulnerable (children, women, and the elderly) from criminals, violent and otherwise. There is also a strong nexus of economic issues that work well in positioning Martha, including fighting to lower health care costs, create jobs, and hold corporate criminals (including the banks) accountable – recovering the money they owe MA taxpayers. The regional distribution of the independents is spread out: 30% in Boston and the surrounding suburbs, 27% in Middlesex, 23% in Southern Mass., and 20% in Worcester and Western Mass. They are a little more male than female. They are a little younger than voters overall, but this electorate is still quite old and even close to 2/3 of independents are over the age of 50. When it comes to the dynamics of a race that turns negative, it is important to know that voters tend to reject many characterizations of Martha, including that she is too liberal, out of touch, or a rubber stamp for Obama and the Democrats. They are slightly less resistant to portrayals of her as too willing to waste and spend taxpayer money and not tough enough on corruption. The real areas of potential vulnerability fall along the dimensions of being too willing to raise taxes, not knowing enough about foreign policy, and not doing enough on the Big Dig. Voters are divided on whether these traits describe Martha, with many unsure – but that level of ambivalence is a warning sign. Of the specific attacks on her record, the hits that raise the greatest concerns revolve around the Big Dig, partial-birth, soft on crime, and taxes and spending. There are a host of attacks that could debilitate Brown (further) if we decided that was the smartest course to take, but the dynamics of the vote and our edge in resources suggest we focus on Martha's and voters' (shared) priorities, not Brown. Doubts about Brown grow to fairly impressive levels when they hear about his support for the Bush tax cuts, opposition to stronger regulation of Wall St., his vote to slash education funding, and his ties to polluters (and shifting the cost of clean-up from them to taxpayers). It is also noticeable that we have a strong counter-attack on foreign policy the next time that comes up in a debate or otherwise. We'll have the full set of crosstabs in your hands before we close tomorrow. And we look forward to talking later this afternoon.
 
Thanks,
Daniel

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