Coakley’s Pollster Joins Halter Campaign

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 1:09 AM PST

After Martha Coakley's disastrous run for the Senate in Massachusetts, one might wonder what's next on the agenda for the consultants and operatives who staffed her campaign. Coakley's pollster Celinda Lake has landed well. She's now working for a very different kind of candidate: progressive darling Bill Halter, the Arkansas Lieutenant Governor who announced Monday that he would challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the state's Democratic primary.

Lake confirmed to Mother Jones that she is working for Halter's primary bid, though she declined to comment further without clearance from the campaign staff. A leading Democratic pollster, Lake was among those whom Rahm Emanuel and other top officials reportedly blamed for Coakley’s spectacular defeat.

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If Coakley was emblematic of the Democratic establishment—having been groomed by the party machine to run for Ted Kennedy’s seat—Halter is presenting himself as the quintessential populist outsider, campaigning on the message that "Washington is broken" (though he himself is an alum of the Clinton administration). In announcing his candidacy, Halter railed against "bailing out Wall Street with no strings attached, while leaving middle-class Arkansas taxpayers with the bill; protecting insurance company profits instead of protecting patients." Long frustrated with Lincoln’s centrist views and defense of corporate industry, the liberal netroots has moved quickly to embrace Halter, with MoveOn.org raising some $600,000 in the first day of his campaign—on top of $3 million the AFL-CIO has pledged to his challenge.

By teaming up with Halter, maybe Lake is just paying close attention to the numbers. She has already acknowledged that "anger is a lot more motivating than hope" in the current political and economic climate. "2010 is fast turning out to be a blame election and I think that either we are going to characterize who deserves the blame—whether that's banks and lobbyists and people who still want to hold on to national Republican economic strategies—or we're going to get the blame," Lake told Politico in the wake of Coakley’s defeat.

It's unclear whether Halter’s "candidacy of blame" has a real shot at prevailing in either the primary or the general election. Polls show him trailing even further than Lincoln in a match-up against leading GOP candidate John Boozman. But the support that Halter has already elicited from establishment Democratic operatives like Lake shows how flexible Democratic consultants can be. And while Coakley never came across as much of a fighter, perhaps Lake will have better luck with Halter, who's already coming out swinging.

Update: As it turns out, Celinda Lake also used to be Blanche Lincoln's pollster. That makes her jump to the Halter campaign even more of a coup for him.

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