Republicans are already saying that Coakley’s inevitable loss to Brown is a referendum on Obama’s policies. Democrats are saying that she was just a lousy candidate, and Obama’s and the DNC’s policies have nothing to with it.
Based on the charisma theory, I’d have to say the Democrats are right. But there is a problem here: if charisma is so important, how is it that Coakley got the nomination in the first place? As we have seen, she defeated an apparently more charismatic opponent. How can this be reconciled with the theory?
First of all, it must be made clear that Capuano isn’t much more charismatic than Coakley is. If he had Obama-level charisma, this would be a different story. Second of all, I speculate that charisma becomes a bigger factor the more important an election is perceived to be. In primaries, for a seat that is considered won by X party candidate by default, it matters less, because people don’t even care enough to really investigate the candidates even enough to find out who has charisma. At that level, it’s the close–almost personal–supporters of Martha Coakley and Michael Capuano, not their party or really even any ideology.
Once a campaign takes on an aura of extreme importance, it changes things. Epic struggles and charismatic people complement each other beautifully. If Barack Obama had lent all his personal charisma to the cause of arguing eloquently for, say, fixing potholes in Chicago, it’d be comical. That’s why, as the book Game Change documents, so many Democrats wanted him to run for President. I speculate that charisma doesn’t just help a person get involved in great events, it almost demands them to.
Oddly, however, you can’t lend your charisma to someone else by means of an endorsement. Obama’s campaigning for Creigh Deeds is proof of this. Having someone charismatic testify on your behalf just… doesn’t seem to work. I don’t know why. All sending Obama to help Coakley does, I think, is demonstrate how important the election is.
And that plays right into Brown’s hands.