Unsavory sex abuse cases play a big role in Massachusetts politics. In 1998, the Democratic nominee for governor, Scott Harshbarger, lost in part because of his infamous prosecution of the Amirault family (which I agree was a terrible miscarriage of justice). Coakley has been criticized for her role in this case, but to me it seems fairly tangential. Weirdly and personally, I have heard about this case for my entire adult life: for reasons I can’t explain, when my uncle is drunk around the holidays, he starts joking about Tookie Amirault and the “magic room”. I can also remember my grandmother telling me she wouldn’t vote Harshbarger because he wouldn’t let priests wear their collars in their courtroom when they were being tried for sex crimes.
Massachusetts politics is strange. It’s very liberal by any measure and it’s completely dominated by Democrats (I would argue that the recent success of Republican gubernatorial candidates was caused by the fact that the Democrats ran a lunatic in 1990 while the Republicans ran a moderate candidate who went on to be a moderate and well-liked governor). But, Cambridge and a few other places notwithstanding, the liberalism is not always of the high-brow, nuanced variety. It’s more the liberalism of places like Italy or Spain, where there’s genuine concern for the poor and respect for the working class, but also a lot of superstitious, essentially conservative Catholicism and a lot of retelling of decades (if not centuries) old stories. If Coakley loses on Tuesday — and I think she’ll win by 6-10 points — it will be more because of the state’s idiosyncrasies than because voters reject health care reform.