Beam on Politics

Attack ads to spice up Senate primary

By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / November 20, 2009

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People say that the Democratic primary race for Ted Kennedy's seat is boring, and they are right. There's not a doughnut's worth of difference among the pretenders. Each claims to be a super-liberal, eager to empty out the US Treasury to placate whatever interest group they happen to find themselves in front of.

What we need to spice up this race are some old-fashioned attack ads, e.g. "Steve Pagliuca -- Too Rich for Our Blood!" But you won't be seeing any. It's a Democratic primary, and the candidates have to act as if they like and/or respect each other. The one guy who has the dough to unload on his rivals -- Pagliuca -- is too decent, alas. It's not his style.

Fans of Showtime's engagingly perverse crime show about a police blood analyst, "Dexter," understand the Spatter Factor. If you go negative, sometimes the muck splashes back on you. To complicate maters, the perceived front runner, Attorney General Martha Coakley, is a rather dignified woman, a lady, to invoke an epithet from another era. The besmircher risks becoming the besmirched.

In the interests of livening up this tepid stumble to the Russell Senate Office Building, here are my attack ads, now officially in the public domain:

Steve Pagliuca

Too easy. You could blow this guy away in 15 seconds, with Pete Seeger's union ballad "Which Side Are You On?" strumming in the background. The voice-over: "He gave money to George Bush. He gave money to Mitt Romney. Steve Pagliuca -- Which Side Is He On?"

With 30 seconds, you could fan the coals of class resentment to burning white-hot: "He donated to Bush and Romney. He drives a Lexus. He lives in Weston. He fires people for a living. He's worth half a billion dollars. Steve Pagliuca -- Republican for Senate."

Representative Michael Capuano

This one is pretty easy, too. "Mike Capuano: He voted for the health care bill before he said he would vote against it. Hey Mike -- make up your mind!"

It would be tempting to add, "Massachusetts doesn't need two waffle puppies in the Senate." However, attacking Senator John Kerry in a Democratic primary doesn't seem like a promising tack.

Alan Khazei

I find Khazei's whole presentation a little disjointed. He natters on about casino gambling, but other than helping to certify the existence of fake Indian tribes, US senators don't have much to do with casino gambling. He won't meet with lobbyists from Exxon/Mobil, but he will meet with lobbyists from the Sierra Club? I missed the part where the Sierra Club became the repository of all that is right, true, and honorable in this country.

My anti-Khazei ad would parody one of his own Web videos, "Not Hazy, Daisy, or Jay-Z," which makes light of Khazei's low name recognition. "Not Hazy, Daisy, Lazy, or Jaz-Z," my ad would say -- "He's Crazy!"

Attorney General Martha Coakley

Proceed with caution! Yes, of course Coakley spends every waking minute pandering to female voters, but that's smart. The primary electorate will be about 55 percent women, so attacking her for her attachment to the X chromosome is almost sure to backfire. I stole this idea for an anti-Coakley ad from a political pro, and I think it's a good one:

"Senator Ted Kennedy said that his greatest political mistake was not compromising with President Richard Nixon on universal health care. They could have had a deal, and every American could have had health insurance. But Ted Kennedy insisted on a perfect plan, and later realized he was wrong.

Now Martha Coakley is about to make the same mistake. She won't vote for a health care bill she doesn't like. Remember Ted Kennedy. Vote for Mike Capuano." (Or Khazei, Pagliuca.)