WORCESTER, Mass. – “By the way,” said Curt Schilling. “One more thing. I am not a Yankees fan.”
The overflowing crowd at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall on Sunday, expecting the joke, roared in approval. The former Red Sox pitcher, a hero to Massachusetts sports fans for driving the team to an upset pennant victory over the New York Yankees in 2004, had flirted with a Senate run before passing on it and endorsing State Senator Scott Brown. Twice in the past week, he had been roused to write angry blog posts after Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general, made baffling gaffes seemingly at sports fans’ expense. First, she derided the idea that “shaking hands outside of Fenway, in the cold,” was more worthwhile than meet-and-greets with local politicians. Then, she claimed that Schilling was a Yankees fan.
For Brown’s supporters, many still unable to believe that their candidate was increasingly being seen as the likely winner of Tuesday’s election, Coakley’s remarkable run of verbal snafus were proof that the Democrat was aloof, didn’t care about them, and expected the seat of former Sen. Ted Kennedy to be handed to her without a fight.
“You know who Scott Brown’s best campaigner is?” said Chris Pinto of Worcester. “Martha Coakley. Every time she opens her mouth, he goes up a point.”
Before Brown’s rally, hundreds of supporters gathered outside the venue to wave signs and catch a glimpse of the stars he’d brought with him–Schilling, football great Doug Flutie, former “Cheers” star John Ratzenberger. They taunted a small line of Democratic counter-protesters by making references to other Coakley gaffes.
“Can you spell Massachusetts?” chanted one group of Brown backers, mocking an early Coakley attack ad that gave the state an extra “E.”
“No terrorists in Afghanistan!” yelled Wayne Kilburn, a Connecticut voter who walked through the crowd ringing a bell, mocking an argument that Coakley made about America’s strategy in central Asia. “No terrorists in Afghanistan!”
Coakley’s troubles on the stump have done more than sink in with voters through the clutter of the campaign. At the “People’s Rally,” they allowed Brown to portray himself as an everyman candidate, an insurgent who didn’t even mention his party affiliation, up against a “machine” of outsiders and elitists. Speakers stuck to the script, talking about the thrill of come-from-behind victories. Only Ratzenberger touched on ideology, with an off-topic musing about how Democrats had become a party of “Saul Alinsky and Woodstock.” Brown’s daughter Ayla, a six-foot-tall basketball player at Boston College, was more on point–she simply informed the crowd that her team had beaten Georgia Tech today, and that her father could pull the upset, too.
For most of its 24 minutes, Brown’s speech eschewed ideology and focused on the “machine” out to get him. “You’re my machine!” he said, pointing into the crowd. “And you! And you! And you! And you!” If elected, he’d “open the back rooms” and tell the Senate to “start over” on health care, because that’s what voters were screaming for Washington to do.
“One of the great things about being an independent,” said Brown, “is you meet voters of every kind.”
Brown only made reference to two presidents. The first was Barack Obama, who he chided for showing up to a Coakley event in Boston. Obama, said Brown, should recognize an unlikely political story when he saw one. “Whoever heard of a guy from Wrentham getting elected to the Senate?”
The second president Brown acknowledged was John F. Kennedy. Brown’s first TV ad had Kennedy morphing into the GOP candidate, both of them talking about tax cuts. Democrats’ failure to punch back on the ad was an early sign of their failure to grapple with the election. Brown, unbowed, promised that he’d work “like Kennedy” and back “across-the-board tax cuts for businesses and families.”
Brown’s supporters weren’t quite so nonpartisan. Only a few that TWI spoke to said they’d backed Ted Kennedy in the past; none had voted for Obama. In the rallies before and after the speech they waved signs with slogans like “Tea Party Republican” and “B.O. Lies What Do You Expect.” Some greeted Brown’s arrival by yelling that “the real Americans are coming!” But most of them transferred their anger at the White House into full-throated support for Brown. A health care worker named Sarah Farren even held up a sign that read “Scott Brown for President.”
“Yeah, I’m getting ahead of myself,” said Farren.