President Obama didn’t forget Martha Coakley’s quote about shaking hands at Fenway

"It was already clear that there were going to be problems there."

Martha Coakley chats with Jamie Berger, of Auburn (L) and Tyler Castagno, of Wayland (C) as she meets voters with her husband retired police Deputy Superintendent Thomas F. O'Connor, Jr. (R)outside of Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts September 18, 2013. (Jessica Rinaldi For The Boston Globe)
Former Attorney General Martha Coakley pictured at Fenway Park in 2013, three years after her infamous quote. –Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe

More than six years later, and Martha Coakley still can’t get any slack for her 2010 Senate campaign.

In a New York magazine cover story reflecting on his eight years in office, President Barack Obama picked out a quote from none other than the former Massachusetts attorney general as somewhat of a low point during the fight to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Well, the first thing that’s happening is I’m talking to Rahm [Emanuel, then chief of staff], and Jim Messina [then deputy chief of staff] and saying, “Okay, explain to me how this happened.” It was at that point that I learned that our candidate, Martha Coakley, had asked, rhetorically, “What should I do, stand in front of Fenway and shake hands with voters?,” and we figured that wasn’t a good bellwether of how things might go.

The quote came with less than a week before the January 2010 special election for the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Coakley, a Democrat supposedly favored in deep-blue Massachusetts, tersely replied to a Boston Globe reporter, who suggested she was being too passive in her campaign.


“As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?” Coakley said.

She would go on to lose the election to Republican Scott Brown, forfeiting the Democrats’ 60-vote filibuster-proof Senate majority.

In a 2010 book, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter wrote that Obama’s reaction to Coakley’s Fenway remark was a little more animated than the president recently described.

Told of the comment, Obama reportedly grabbed adviser David Axelrod by the shirt.

“No! No! You’re making that up! That’s can’t be right! Tell me she didn’t say that!” he said—”with a few obscenities tossed in,” according to Alter.

In Monday’s interview with New York‘s Jonathan Chait, Obama said that by the time he flew to Massachusetts to campaign for the Democrat, “it was already clear that there were going to be problems there.”

But the president said Coakley’s loss also forced him to change the way he thought about politics.

“It did underscore, by the way, for me, I think, a failing in my first year, and that is the sort of perverse faith in good policy leading to good politics,” he said, later adding that “the loss in Massachusetts reminded me of what any good president and any good elected official needs to understand: You’ve got to pay attention to public opinion, and you have to be able to communicate those ideas.”


The Affordable Care Act was eventually signed into law, even without a Democratic supermajority in the Senate.

For her part, Coakley did visit Fenway Park during her 2013 gubernatorial campaign, which she lost to Gov. Charlie Baker.

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