David Usborne: Coakley ticks most of the right boxes, but she has no fizz

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The Independent Online

If Teddy were alive, he would not be amused. His shoes were big, of course, but couldn't his party have done a slightly better job of selecting the person who was meant to fill them?

She is earnest, professional and clever and she is a woman, not a bad thing in politics right now. But Martha Coakley, the woman intended to take up the big man's baton, has no fizz.

Coming in the wake of a man who, for all his faults, was a giant of American politics, and standing in a state identified so closely with his family, the candidate's lack of charisma is a glaring deficiency.

Politicians don't have to be huggable. I know Coakley isn't that from having watched her week in, week out as the lead prosecutor in the Louise Woodward baby-shaking murder trial 10 years ago. She was clinical, brusque and determined. But something in a political candidate needs to stir your juices.

Since Obama took office a year ago, the Democrats have been in a rut of bad choices. The process of filling the Senate seat left by Hillary Clinton in New York when she became Secretary of State was also a mess. Another Kennedy – Caroline – was almost chosen, but instead they installed Kirsten Gillibrand, then a member of the House. Gillibrand has even less voltage than Coakley.

When Teddy died in August, there was a pause while Joe Kennedy, his nephew and a former congressman, pondered keeping the Camelot flame burning. He demurred and the door was left open for Coakley. She had to fight a primary race first and she easily defeated the other Democrat hopefuls.

Even if she wins tomorrow, the margin will probably be narrow, and questions will still be asked. How could she have come so close to blowing a Senate seat that has been in the Democratic fold for so many decades? (Teddy alone had it for nearly 47 years.) Her defenders will point to the mess of getting healthcare reform through, the diminished standing of President Obama and the natural cycles of politics. People are angry, not least with a recovery that never gets traction. It is the party in power that naturally suffers.

But even so. Until just a few days ago, Coakley was running a campaign that seemed mechanical if not arrogant. Where her opponent, Scott Brown, has fire she seems to be lined with flame retardant.

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