Obama Muscles Into Massachusetts Senate Race

Wednesday, 13 Jan 2010 06:52 PM

By David A. Patten

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In a bid to stave off a potential political disaster, President Barack Obama and his allies are mounting a last-ditch effort to thwart state Sen. Scott Brown's bid to score a "Massachusetts miracle" by winning the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in next Tuesday's special election.

Brown is vying to wrest the once-invulnerable "Kennedy seat" away from Democrats and Attorney General Martha Coakley, thereby stripping Democrats of their super-majority in the Senate.

To counter Brown's skyrocketing momentum – Brown's campaign has raised more than $1.3 million in the past 24 hours, most of it from small donors – the president has jumped into the race behind the scenes. Obama blasted his massive campaign e-mail list with a letter praising Coakley and seeking support. Also, his Twitter feed urged supporters to make phone calls promoting Coakley's candidacy.

So far, the president has shied away from campaigning directly on Coakley's behalf in Massachusetts. But Brown says that may be about to change.

"I understand that he may be coming this weekend," Brown told Fox News host Neil Cavuto on Wednesday. "President Clinton is here. Everybody who is part of the political establishment in Massachusetts is rallying around her … she'll be a Washington insider and be part of the political establishment down there, be the 60th vote, shut off debate, ram things through."

In his appearance on Fox, Brown painted himself as a determined underdog fighting the Massachusetts Democratic establishment, and openly pleaded for support.

"If people want to help, I need their help, nationally, locally – to fight the machine," he said.

That Democrats are pulling out all the stops to win a race in dark blue Massachusetts is a shocker. Several polls show the race is too close to call.

A Rasmussen Reports poll on Tuesday, for example, shows Coakley winning 49 percent of the vote, compared with Brown's 47 percent – within the poll's 2.7 percent margin of error. That means that, if the election were held today, it would be too close to call.

A Public Policy Polling survey shows Brown with a 1 percent lead, while a Boston Globe poll published Jan. 10 showed Coakley with a 15-point lead.

It would be a historic win for the GOP: The last time a Republican represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate was in 1980.

The political stakes could hardly be higher. A Coakley defeat would be a devastating blow to Democrats' plans to transform national governance. It would further alarm already-skittish Democrats about their electoral prospects in the November midterm elections, and would cost Democrats the 60th vote that they may need to pass their healthcare reform compromise.

Boston University's Tobe Berkovitz tells Newsmax that a Brown upset would be "a seismic event," adding: "It would dwarf [GOP gubernatorial wins in] Virginia and New Jersey. And basically, people should start investing in U-Haul, because there's going to be a lot of orange trucks down there in Washington in November 2010, if Brown wins this race."

Berkovitz, a communications and in Boston, predicts that Obama's influence will boost Coakley, but probably not enough to be decisive.

"If you look at Obama putting his muscle behind this, and Clinton actually showing up," Berkovitz said, "it tends to generally get good press and that can help dispel the 'Coakley's in dire straits story' that is starting to emerge."
Yet now that voters have awakened to just how close the contest may be, Berkowitz says outside influences probably won't determine the outcome.

"What's happened is, voters have started to focus on it because now it is suddenly a race," he told Newsmax. "While it was once a fait accompli, voters see now they actually have a role in this. How it will actually turn out remains to be seen."

The race is complicated by the fact that an independent candidate whose last name is Kennedy – unrelated to the late senator and the Camelot legacy – also appears on the ballot.

Although independent candidate Joe Kennedy is polling less than 5 percent of the vote, that could be enough to change the outcome in a tight contest. Only 2 percent of Massachusetts voters say they're undecided.

While professing confidence, Democrats and their allies are pulling out all the stops.

Sources told TheHill.com that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poured more than $500,000 into an ad buy for Coakley on Tuesday. Democratic leaders have dispatched high-level coordinators to Massachusetts, in an effort to pump up a Democratic base that has been uninspired since the party captured the White House.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, joined in Tuesday, sending out fundraising e-mails on Coakley's behalf.

The Hill reported the AFL-CIO held an urgent conference call this week to discuss the race.

"There's no question that the race is tightening," AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman told TheHill. "The stakes are really big here. I think there's no reason to take chances on losing the 60th vote in the Senate."

Immediately after the campaign's last debate on Monday, Coakley's campaign went sharply negative, issuing a TV ad that asks: "Who is Scott Brown, really?"

The ad, an obvious effort to link Brown to the Republican establishment, features pictures of former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as Rush Limbaugh. It also suggests that Brown opposes emergency contraception for women who have suffered rape.

Brown's two daughters made an appeal for Coakley to cancel the ad, calling it "completely inaccurate and misleading."

In another indication of rising tensions over the race, Weekly Standard correspondent John McCormack reported that he was roughed up and pushed to the ground Tuesday outside a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for Coakley, when he persisted in asking her whether she stood by a recent remark that no terrorists remain in Afghanistan. Coakley later claimed she didn't see what happened to McCormack, although a picture widely posted on the Internet of the incident suggested otherwise.

Coakley has stumbled over the war in Afghanistan in the campaign's waning days. On Monday she said: "If the goal was and the mission in Afghanistan was to go in because we believed that the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists. We supported that. I supported that. They’re gone. They’re not there anymore.”

Coakley is calling for the Obama administration to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Brown supports the president's decision to send in additional troops.

Conservative bloggers jumped on that statement, pointing out that seven CIA officers died in a suicide bombing in southeastern Afghanistan on Dec. 30.

According to the PlumLine blog, Coakley's campaign and the Democratic National Committee have issued an urgent appeal to leading national Democratic donors. The fund-raising pitch warns that internal polling reflects a very tight race.

None of these developments seems to be slowing Brown's momentum, however. On Tuesday he collected endorsements from two police unions in Worcester, Mass., suggesting Coakley's labor support is not monolithic.

Brown is hammering away on the fact that, as a senator, he might be able to block Democratic healthcare reforms, which polls show are unpopular in Massachusetts.

"In Massachusetts we already have insurance," Brown told Cavuto. "We have 98 percent of our people insured. So why are we in fact [going to] cut Medicare half a trillion [dollars], have longer lines, lesser coverage, subsidize other states – it makes no sense. It's not good for Massachusetts, and the backroom deals are certainly not good for the country. And people have lost faith in the process."

If Brown wins, it is unclear whether Democrats would be able to drag out certifying his victory long enough to squeeze the healthcare compromise through the Senate.

Berkovitz said the winner will be determined by two factors: attracting persuadable voters and getting out the vote.

"It's all about last-minute switching of soft supporters, and then it's really about turnout and get out the vote on Tuesday," he said.

Some pundits caution that Republicans may regret turning the race into a national referendum on healthcare reform. Democrats who otherwise would sit out a special election will be energized to turn out to vote, they say.

Yet Berkovitz said the Obama administration's effort to tilt the scales in Coakley's favor may be arriving too late.

"They're really trying to ride to rescue at last minute," he said. "This is trying to pull the candidate off the tracks, and the train is starting to roar down on them."

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