Five weeks ago pollsters, pundits and politicians alike thought the special election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts would likely be a snoozer. But as the battle over health care heated up in Washington and in the final days before Tuesday’s election, the race has become a proxy for the national health care debate and one that Democrats could lose.
The bill Democrats have been working on for six months hangs in the balance and Republicans are flooding the zone in hopes of a symbolic victory to kick off the 2010 election year.
Sources tell TPMDC the battleplan laid out for both sides in December had to be scrapped as the race between Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) and state Sen. Scott Brown (R) grew tighter. Since the final health care deal is so close and Brown is vowing to be the 41st vote to block it, all of the tension and national energy in that fight have channeled to the Bay State.
So have Senate staffers, top political consultants from both parties and outside organizations that are pumping money to air television advertising at unprecedented levels.Democrats are invoking Sen. Ted Kennedy’s memory – and the signature health care reform he championed over his career. And given the state’s political leanings, everyone thought the Democratic primary would essentially elect Kennedy’s successor.
Observers on the ground tell TPMDC the energy is crackling – in part because the state hasn’t seen anything like this in recent political memory.
Their Senate races haven’t been competitive in more than a decade, and a special election with national attention is almost unheard of.
“Who could imagine in the aftermath of Sen. Kennedy’s death that any Republican could slide into that vaunted seat,” said Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
That’s one reason Vicki Kennedy’s fundraising appeal raised more than half a million dollars yesterday – and will be followed soon by an appeal from Ted Kennedy Jr.
Former President Bill Clinton and Sen. John Kerry will rally the grassroots tomorrow in hopes of generating enough enthusiasm to drive Democratic turnout Tuesday. Republicans have deployed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has been making his own push and campaigning at Coakley’s side.
A Senate aide who soldiered North to help with the race told TPMDC that it’s “not a doom and gloom scenario” that’s being portrayed by the national media.
But Republicans think they have a fighting chance, especially by tapping into the frustration over government spending and appealing to health care foes.
And there are big implications beyond health care in a critical election year.
If Coakley loses, it “will be staggeringly difficult for the Democrats to go on offense in 2010,” said Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic consultant.
Top senators from Chris Dodd, Al Franken, Pat Leahy and Majority Leader Harry Reid passed the Kennedy appeal on to their national fundraising lists. It reportedly raised more than $520,000 and crashed Coakley’s campaign servers last night. That cash is added to the $600,000 MoveOn raised for Coakley over the last few days.
Brown raised more than $1.3 million in a one-day “moneybomb” earlier this week.
See all of our coverage of the special election collected here.
Late Update: The Daily Caller reports that Brown raised $1 million per day online this week.