David emailed me pointing out that “the latest right-wing meme is that she’s vulnerable”, following that Rasmussen poll that has Martha Coakley ’75 leading Republican Scott Brown in the race for the late Ted Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat.  Is she that vulnerable?  From the Christian Science Monitor:

Jan. 4 Rasmussen poll of likely voters found Coakley leading her Republican challenger, state Sen. Scott Brown, by a smaller margin than expected – nine percentage points.

In the poll, 50 percent favored Coakley and 41 percent chose Senator Brown. The general election is Jan. 19.

Coakley was strongly favored coming out of the Dec. 8 primary due to the heavily Democratic nature of Massachusetts: Blue voters outnumber their red counterparts 3 to 1 in the state.

It’s funny how points is considered huge in some races and small in others.  Maybe it’s a bit of a surprise in a state with a 3:1 Democratic registration advantage, but nine points is still nine points.  But polls aren’t elections.

In elections with low turnout – and special elections like this one usually qualify – it’s true that such leads can evaporate when the election goes to the ballot box.  We saw that on election night in my home state of New York last November, when challenger Bill Thompson made up most of a 14+ percentage point deficit (looking at the Pollster average) to nearly unseat NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg (see Pollster.com’s graph here).  The gap separating Thompson and Bloomberg was just 4.6% on election night.

That being said, I remember most of the crazy upsets and near-upsets from election night ‘09 favoring insurgents against incumbents – times are tough, and people, more than being angry at any particular political party (though there’s definitely some of that) are angry at the folks in charge of things.  So, for example, 2009 was a very bad year to be an incumbent county executive in my neck of the woods.

This is where I tend to disagree with comments like this, from a consultant cited in the CSM article:

“He’s offered himself up as a protest candidate: ‘If you don’t like the way things are going in Washington, vote for me,’ ” says Dan Payne, a Massachusetts-based Democratic media consultant. “The winds are blowing against the Democrats right now.”

Granted, the Democratic brand has taken a big hit, but my bet is voters blame those in charge way more than newcomers – so, while incumbent Senator Chris Dodd in Connecticut bowed out rather than face a very tough reelection fight, Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is expected to hold that seat for Democrats easily.

Coakley ’75 is an attorney general running for U.S. Senate, not an incumbent senator being flogged with the Senate’s recent run of incredibly bad press.  So I don’t think she’s in for the world of hurt folks in the media think Democrats will be facing.  As for whether this poll indicates she’s in danger – nothing’s certain in politics, and a great field campaign combined with low turnout and a demotivated Democratic base could potentially pull an upset, sure.  But I wouldn’t bet on it, and I’m sure Coakley’s campaign is working hard and taking no chances.

I hope someone on campus is organizing to get out the vote for Coakley, though!  Working to get out the vote on election day is something everyone should do at least once.

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