The Boston Herald Covers the Race for Senator of Fantasy Land

To hear them tell it, last night's Democratic debate was massively interesting.

Pity the Boston Herald‘s Joe Battenfeld, who had the unenviable task this week of hyping the Herald-sponsored Democratic Senate debate in the face of a boring contest for the nomination between Reps. Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch. Battenfeld’s two columns, the one previewing the Senate debate and the one summing it up offer a case study in how to create high stakes out of thin air and then quickly defuse them.

In the real world, Markey began the race favored over Lynch by the Democratic establishment. The Senate race hasn’t really captured the electorate’s attention in a way the past few have, but polls show that he’s maintained his lead, and that absent a groundswell of voter interest and discontent with the Democratic party like the movement that put Scott Brown in office in 2010, the Democratic nominee will have a near lock on the general election.

Now join us on a journey to Heraldland, where Ed Markey is struggling. Battenfeld’s preview column told us, without evidence, that the debate would be “watched by voters who are now starting to pay attention to this race.” How convenient that the voters are finally tuning in just in time for the Herald debate, despite the fact that the debate isn’t airing on television! (It streamed on

Battenfeld doesn’t argue that Markey might lose to Lynch. But his “lackluster performance” in the campaign thus far is “making Republicans salivate at the prospect of beating him in a general election.” What exactly does a salivating Republican look like? Well, read on and Battenfeld writes, “State Rep. Dan Winslow, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and Gabriel Gomez haven’t looked impressive yet, but that could change in the coming weeks.” Oh. So an unimpressive performance from a Democrat in a state that pretty much guarantees victory to a Democrat is giving three unimpressive Republicans a shot at being just impressive enough to win? Sure, why not?

Fast forward to this morning’s dispatch from Battenfeld recapping what ended up being a wildly consequential and exciting performance for the previously flailing Ed Markey. “Ed Markey took a big step toward wrapping up the Democratic Senate nomination last night and erasing voter doubts about his ability to connect with Massachusetts voters after three decades in Washington,” he writes. This is, apparently, in part because of Markey’s shocking decision to say something nice about a Republican. Battenfeld recaps:

“I agreed with Rand Paul,” Markey said, probably drawing gasps from partisan Massachusetts Democrats watching in the debate hall and online at “I’m glad he filibustered.”

(In case you’re wondering about Battenfeld’s connection with reality here, the phrase “probably drawing gasps” is about all you need to know. We’re skeptical that Markey’s support for Paul’s opposition to drone warfare surprised or troubled many liberals.) Based on this and a few other moments, Battenfeld concludes that, “It’s a strategy that will probably win Markey the nomination and may make him a lot tougher to beat than many Republicans had thought.”

You see what he’s done there? He tells us that the candidate (who was always going to win) needs a Big Moment to ensure he’ll win. Then he tells us that the candidate did, in fact, produce a Big Moment. So when he wins, it’s all because of what transpired at the Boston Herald-sponsored Senate debate not because of any underlying and insurmountable dynamics in the race.

Anyway, returning from Heraldland for a moment, let’s see how other reporters reacted to Markey’s transformative moment. The Boston Globe‘s Michael Levenson called it “a civil debate that turned on gentle differences of policy and biography,” but one that “did not produce any explosive ­moments that could upend the dynamic of the contest.” Hmmm … The New York Times‘s Katherine Seelye notes that, “So far, the race has been fairly tame and civil,” and that last night’s debate was a “a low-key tussle over which candidate’s roots are more humble.”

Hey, we’d rather follow a race as exciting as the one the Herald thinks they’re covering, too, but all evidence seems to indicate that the election probably won’t have stakes this high again until, you know, the Herald has to sponsor another debate.