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Coakley’s Latest Gaffe Joins Massachusetts Political History

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Martha Coakley’s gas tax gaffe will go down in Massachusetts political history as one of the most prominent flubs in recent memory, creating a lot of concern among voters and political analysts in regards to her lack of connection to the middle class and her skills as a successful campaigner.

Coakley’s recent gaffe on WCVB’s “On the Record” has earned the Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate much criticism since going on the show on Sunday the 18th. Although Coakley has since admitted that her comment was a mistake, experts now wonder if this gaffe will have an impact on her campaign.

"Very few people get 100 percent of the pop quiz questions on OTR correct and Martha made a mistake,” said Bonnie McGilpin, a spokesperson for Martha Coakley. “Martha knows that the gas tax is a critical funding source to make the transportation infrastructure investments that are necessary to move Massachusetts forward."

When asked in a pop quiz about the current gas tax in the Commonwealth, Coakley replied that the tax per gallon of gas was 10-cents which is less than half what the current tax is right now at 24-cents. That tax price is expected to rise next year because the tax figure is tied to inflation.

Campaign Effects

Political gaffes have often led to destroyed campaigns, something that many politicians – including Martha Coakley – have seen in the past.

While running for senator against Scott Brown in 2010, Coakley made comments about Fenway Park and Brown’s efforts to greet potential voters outside the historic ballpark saying, “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?”

The comments were heavily scrutinized saying that Coakley was far too passive in her campaigning; something that many say led to her losing the Senate race.

Associate Professor of Political Science at UMass Boston Erin O’Brien feels that although the gaffe has the potential to be damaging when put with other evidence, the gaffe itself is not something that could threaten Coakley’s campaign.

“As a political scientist, this gaffe isn’t surprising to me at all,” said O’Brien. “Things like this happen a lot; a factual error isn’t a huge deal. I think that people will continue to make a big deal or this and if paired with other facts, this could become problematic.”

Through all of the negative criticism, Coakley’s competency has remained relatively unscathed, with O’Brien pointing out that the majority of people in Massachusetts feel as though she is doing a great job as the current Attorney General.

While not condemning Coakley’s campaign, O’Brien says that Charlie Baker’s campaign is smart to continue to try to get this latest gaffe out to the public in any way possible. Coakley may be the current favorite to with the gubernatorial election, but if Baker plays his cards right, he could rocket past her to become the next Massachusetts governor.

“When this mistake happened, many people smelt blood in the water,” said O’Brien. “It is very smart politics; I wouldn’t say that it is fair politics however. For anyone who is advising Baker, it makes perfect and logical sense to latch onto something like this and continue to work with it.”

Backlash from Republicans

Much of the negative backlash for Coakley’s comments has come from the GOP in Massachusetts. Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker was one of the many to offer a statement on the gaffe.

“If you want to be Governor, and you support an automatic increase in the gas tax, you should know what the current tax rate is,” said Baker. “That the Attorney General, who had to certify a ballot question on this topic, would think the state gas tax is 10 cents is a little scary.”

One of the largest concerns with Coakley as a governor is that through her campaigning which at times has been lackluster, she has seems to distance herself from the working class. According to Bill McCarthy, a member of the Massachusetts Republican Party State Committee, this is something that raises a major red flag.

“Hearing Coakley’s comments lead me to believe that she is out of touch with the working class,” said McCarthy. “I don’t think she knows the plight of the average person in this state. As things begin to stack up, I think we will see more and more that she doesn’t know how to work in or for the real world.”

McCarthy says that part of this disconnect could be that Coakley’s position as the Attorney General doesn’t allow her as many dealings with the working class as other political jobs. McCarthy is concerned that the transition is a hard one to make; having to switch gears and work with and for the working class is a difficult task.

Gas tax rates being tied to inflation is a huge deal, according to McCarthy, and is something that can have huge implications on the future. That is ultimately the concern when he thinks of Coakley and her recent gaffe; how are people to take her seriously if she can’t even stay current on important and current issues.

“I am concerned because you have someone that isn’t up to date on important economic issues, especially one that is as important as this,” said McCarthy. “Coming up with inflation relies on a lot of experts and economists looking at data and then juggling numbers. But these numbers don’t always offer a full picture. And now we have a law that will add this equation into gas. If I had to give Coakley a grade for this whole thing, I would say that get gets an F.”


Related Slideshow: Prominent Political Gaffes In Massachusetts’ History

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Martha Coakley Gas Tax Flub


Coakley incorrectly stated that the gas tax was 10-cents rather than the actual tax of 24-cents during a pop quiz on a TV show

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Coakley Disses Fenway Park


During her Senate campaign run against Scott Brown, Coakley angered som Red Sox fans when she made the comment  “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?” when asked about Brown's campaign efforts. 

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John Kerry Windsurfing Ad Helps to Sink Campaign


When the George Bush campaign retrieved footage of John Kerry windsurfing, it was used in an advertisement saying that Kerry was prone to change, something that stuck with voters. 

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Michael Dukakis lost a double digit lead in the presidential election to George H. W. Bush when an ad depicting Willie Horton was released. The ad highlighted Dukakis' policy of criminal furloughs for some criminals when he was the governor of Massachusetts.

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During an interview with Roger Mudd, Ted Kennedy was asked why he wanted to be president. His response was less than satisfactory and was later described as repetitive and unprepared. 


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