I started following the Scott Brown campaign on December 9, the day after the primary. I covered the race closely, some would say obsessively, including over 80 blog posts. I also volunteered for two days at Brown headquarters and made dozens of phone calls to voters.
On December 9, almost no one gave Brown any realistic chance to win. But beneath the seemingly placid waters was a strong political undercurrent, which, combined with Brown’s effective campaign and Coakley’s missteps, created the most stunning political upset in recent history. Here’s how Brown won.
Toxic Health Care
The political atmosphere on December 9 already was toxic for Democrats. Throughout the fall, polls consistently found declining support for Democratic health care proposals. This discontent was further agitated in November by the $300 million “Louisiana Purchase” payoff to Sen. Mary Landrieu, in exchange for her support.
Closed-door Senate negotiations in December, and Ben Nelson’s “Cornhusker Kickback” for Nebraska, created grassroots momentum against the health care legislation.
A poll taken by the National Republican Senatorial Committee in mid-December showed that Brown was down by only 13 points, reflecting this underlying public discontent. The poll was kept quite so as not to alert anyone to the relatively close race, and everyone proceeded throughout December believing that Coakley would coast to an easy victory.
Social Media and Coakley’s Vacation
Coakley pretty much took the month of December off from the general election campaign trail, including vacation during Christmas week. While Coakley was vacationing, Brown was building his campaign by nonstop retail campaigning and an effective social media strategy through his Brown Brigade website.
During December, a small number of independent bloggers and twitterers also were generating buzz on the internet for Brown. By the end of December 2009, Brown was winning the online war, and by early January, Brown dominated Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere. By the time of the election, social media was a driving force in Brown’s fundraising and generating enthusiasm for his campaign.
Brown also used December to start building a fundraising base. Coakley, perhaps because she assumed an easy victory, had tepid fundraising. In order to create the appearance of strong fundraising, Coakley was reduced to issuing misleading press releases which conflated her primary campaign fundraising with her general election fundraising.
Brown Capitalizes in January
When Coakley returned from vacation in January, Brown had enormous momentum. And when Brown claimed the mantel of John F. Kennedy on December 29 with the now historic campaign ad, Coakley was on defense.
What the Brown campaign knew from NRSC polling, the country learned when Rasmussen released a poll on Tuesday, January 5, showing Coakley up 9% with likely voters, but up only 2% with definite voters.
I visited Brown headquarters the following Saturday, and the effects of the Rasmussen poll were clear. The campaign headquarters saw a tidal wave of enthusiasm. Here’s an excerpt from my report:
The best description of the experience was that it was like one of those movies or commercials where everything is quiet until the actor opens a door, and then there is a blast of noise and light.
From the moment I arrived until I left about 5 hours later, the atmosphere was electric. I had not expected the frenzy of phones ringing, people walking in the door to write checks, dozens of people making calls to voters, and generally ebullient mood. …
If what I saw accurately reflects what is happening statewide, it is going to be very, very interesting on January 19.