First and foremost, the odd date of the special election -- coming so soon after the extended holiday break -- means that Coakley's name identification edge and fundraising prowess are close to determinative.
Even in regularly scheduled elections where voters are habituated to going to their polling place, candidates and their campaigns struggle to get people interested enough in the race to not only pay attention to the competing messages but actually turn out and vote.
With historically low turnout predicted later this month, the fact that Coakley has already been elected statewide is a huge advantage as many voters, paying almost no attention to the race, are likely to go with the name they know rather than an unknown.
I think the shoe's almost on the other foot: Coakley's name ID may help her less on a special election than on a general election. After all, especially because this is a special election after a holiday season, only those really motivated to turn out will vote. I would suspect that special election voters are, on average, more committed to and interested in politics, and they're more likely to be driven by strong feelings. Those strong feelings would seem to favor Brown.
And fundraising may not be the ultimate weapon that Cillizza suggests here. A blogger at Red Mass Group notes the following fact about the primary race:
Passion from supporters can make a huge difference. Moreover, polls in Massachusetts can sometimes underestimate the support of victorious Republicans. Some polls taken just before the 2002 gubernatorial election showed Mitt Romney losing to his Democratic opponent, while a poll taken on the eve of the election had him leading his opponent by 3%. Romney ended up winning by 5%. If undecideds break hard for Brown, and if his ground game can deliver, this race might end up surprising some of even the most seasoned political observers.
Because of the higher level of interest and education these voters are more easily effected by grass roots direct contact and less so by mass media and big money.
On the Democrat side, Pagliuca was in second place in the overall poll beating Khazei by a nearly 6 to 1 margin. Pagliuca spent tons of money on mass media while the little known Khazei spent virtually none gaining most of his support in his ground game. When the votes were finally tallied Khazei finished narrowly ahead of Pagliuca.
The other out performer was Capuano. He had more organizational support from his fellow congressmen and the unions. His turnout operation allowed him to significantly close the overall gap with Coakley when the votes were cast.
On the Republican side, Jack E. Robinson bought radio ads and had an aggressive direct mail campaign. Scott Brown spent virtually no money on media while volunteers spent time doing phone banks. Brown won a landslide victory that exceeded even the polls. On both sides of the isle, the ground game defeated the air game with tremendous success.