Coakley's Frontrunner Gauntlet

When you're the hands-down frontrunner in the biggest political campaign going, you're going to get a lot of tough scrutiny from the press. Tom Reilly couldn't handle it; stories about the call to a DA on behalf of a friend, or about his lieutenant governor selection, unravelled him and led to his diminution in the eyes of voters. Deval Patrick flubbed on the stories about his seeking a pardon for a convicted rapist, leading to the one major stall in his campaign.

It's no surprise that Martha Coakley has been getting that tough scrutiny. The Herald has been driving the story on her shady pre-Kennedy-death campaign spending, which has now led to an FEC investigation. "The Week" Magazine hits her on the Fells Acre case. The AP's Glen Johnson has poked at her a couple of times, over such things as her use of the AG's press operation, and changing her position on the death penalty. I questioned the propriety of naming the senate president as her Honorary Finance Chair. And of course there was the criticism of her hesitance to get her office involved in the Menino email hoopla.

So far, she doesn't seem to be dealing with it very well (as I have cruelly noted here on this blog) -- and I'm clearly not the only one thinking it. Andy Hiller is unimpressed with the Coakley campaign thus far. Scot Lehigh, after an earlier unflattering column on Coakley, gushes over Alan Khazei today. Dan Payne says Coakley "ain't got no soul."  Coakley's refusal to answer questions led to multi-barrelled pillorying in the Herald. And there are other examples, including in the smaller local press.

So far, Coakley's campaign has been unable to change the topic. I think that's because the storylines she's pushing are campaign-process stories. Look at how many signatures we're turning in! Look at all the endorsements she's getting! Look at how big a lead she has in our internal poll! Look at her going to meet with President Obama! None of this is more interesting to the media than the other stories -- and besides, they all reinforce the assumption that she is the frontrunner, and thus deserving of extra scrutiny. (Coakley has also tried with substance, like her financial-systems reform proposal. But of course the better way to get attention is by being second out with a plan, criticizing the candidate who came out first.)

I'm curious to see whether the campaign tries to ride all this out, or tries something more aggressive to change the topic.

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