The brouhaha over her Cherokee ancestry raises questions about whether the national political star can survive the rough-and-tumble of a Massachusetts race.
On October 21, 2009, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democratic frontrunner in the state's 2010 special election to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, ducked into a home in a leafy, affluent neighborhood and greeted a horde of influential liberal movers and shakers at a $1,000 per plate fundraiser. Coakley was polling 26 points ahead of her likely Republican challenger, State Senator Scott Brown, and already there were whispers in the crowd about how impressive she was, with people wondering aloud if she could be running for president in 2016. Coakley's campaign to replace a Kennedy immediately took on the tenor of a national election effort squeezed into a state race. The fundraiser, fittingly, didn't even take place in Boston; it was near Georgetown, in Washington, D.C.
What happened over the next few months -- from calling former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling a Yankee fan to dissing the time-honored tradition of shaking hands outside Fenway Park -- is history, but often forgotten is the fact that when she began her bid for the U.S. Senate, Coakley was considered a superbly strong candidate. She was hyper-competent on issues that mattered, had the unfettered support of the state Democratic Party establishment and was in ideological lockstep with Massachusetts' left-leaning electorate. Oh -- and she'd won her A.G. chair in 2006 in a landslide, with 73 percent of the vote.