Dan Payne

And down the stretch they come

By Dan Payne
December 6, 2009

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AT THE racetrack, a tout sheet is done by a handicapper who offers advice on how the horses have run previously and are likely to run at race time. Here is one handicapper’s view of Tuesday’s Democratic primary race for US Senate.

Martha “Ice In Her Veins’’ Coakley. Only filly in race. Broke from gate to early lead. Has led in every poll since start. Knows the track. Liberal railbirds find her colorless. Runs very disciplined, plodding race. Neck and neck with Mike Capuano in labor support. Turned national health care bill into abortion rights test. Saddled Capuano with same position. Backed by Niki Tsongas, only filly in Massachusetts congressional delegation, and by mares at Emily’s List. Won endorsements from 23 state attorneys general. Gained ground in Bristol County with Providence Journal endorsement. Out of Beacon Hill Stables; backed by half of state Legislature.

Michael “How’d You Like A Punch In The Nose’’ Capuano. Likes to run inside. Rears up quickly when challenged. All but two members of Massachusetts congressional delegation are betting on him, plus top mare in US House. Favorite of old-line liberals. Won first race for Congress while being outspent by two millionaires. Got leg up from Mike Dukakis, Ed Markey, Boston Phoenix, and Boston Herald endorsements. Needs light turnout. Out of Pennsylvania congressman Jack Murtha Stables; took money from mud-splattered lobbyists.

Alan “Did I Mention City Year’’ Khazei. Maiden race. Running on outside. One-trick pony as City Year steward. Dark horse raised $1.1 million in first month. Surprised handicappers by getting Boston Globe endorsement. Hit daily double with Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Looked bad in dreadful dirty diaper commercial. Charismatic. Nonstop talker who lacked strong jockey to rein him in. Needed longer course to gain traction. Sometimes seemed to be running for president. Out of Hollywood Stables; backed by movie directors and B-list celebrities.

Steve “Deer In The Headlights’’ Pagliuca. Dragged down by saddlebags filled with gold. Only recently wore Democratic colors. Unsteady. Spit the bit at end of race and seemed out of control. Recklessly left his lane to cut off others. Not his race. Handlers making small fortune on $7 million TV buy. May follow in hoof prints of Chris Gabrieli, who twice blew millions in losing statewide races. Out of Bain Stables, which makes money by eliminating other peoples’ jobs.

In the home stretch, Coakley is still the odds-on favorite but a strong final kick by Capuano could make it close. He needs a late endorsement from Joseph Kennedy Jr. Khazei has a shot to finish third; he and also-ran Pagliuca could siphon off enough votes to deny Capuano a victory. Capuano’s tough-guy posture, which he refused to dial back even as it turned people off, obscured his merits. Pags’s low blow in the final televised debate calling Capuano “Sarah Palin’’ was insulting and ignorant, and an invitation to a knuckle sandwich.

Although she never mentioned it once during the entire race, Coakley has a good chance to be the state’s first female US senator. Win or lose, there’s a lot riding on her.

Post time: Tuesday, Dec. 8. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Final tip: You can’t win if you don’t play.

Dan Payne is a Boston-area media consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates around the country. He also does political analysis for WBUR radio.