Crucial Mass. Senate Battle Heads To The Finish Line


scott-brownA U.S. Senate race widely labeled a yawner just weeks ago reaches a thunderous finish today as Bay State voters cast ballots that could upend Barack Obama’s health-care plan and change the course of his presidency.

Republican state Sen. Scott Brown, 50, of Wrentham is battling against Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, 56, of Medford in the pivotal contest to fill the remaining two-year term of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

At stake in their intense battle is President Obama’s health-care reform goal, Democrats’ fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and the state’s long-held reputation as a bastion of blue.

The candidates continued their barnstorming yesterday, with Brown – who has stunned the nation with his longshot surge – striking a populist tone on his “Bold New Leadership Tour” and Coakley – previously expected to cruise to election – seeking to redirect widespread anger at the government on her “Fighting for You Tour.”

“Do not forget they were problems that were not created by, but inherited by our president Barack Obama,” Coakley told a crowd at the Hub’s Martin Luther King Day breakfast.

Fresh off his 11th-hour stump for Coakley in the Hub, Obama took to the airwaves in a TV ad and declared “Every vote matters, every voice matters.”

Brown’s meteoric rise in the polls has energized Republicans and activists nationwide, sparking a mass pilgrimage to the Bay State by members of the Tea Party movement, who view him as the answer to the Democrat-dominated Congress.

Crowds lining Main Street in North Andover blasted a boat horn for Brown and shouted, “Scott, you can do it!”

“This is unbelievable,” Brown later told a cheering group of supporters in Littleton. “The energy you’re giving me and I’m feeding off of is unbelievable.”

Tension was high on the campaign trail as Coakley was accused of politicizing the Martin Luther King Day breakfast and as Brown weathered allegations that he smiled at a crude remark about Coakley by one of his supporters.

“You’re seeing the Tea Party movement and the center-right movement rally behind him as a practical matter to hopefully derail Obamacare,” said John M. O’Hara of Chicago, a Needham native who has written a book about the Tea Party protests. “It’s a shot over the bow of incumbents on both sides and a real signal coming into the 2010 election.”

Organizing For America, a spinoff of Obama’s army of campaign volunteers, has been deployed to aid Coakley’s ground game.

David Kravitz, co-founder of Democratic blog Blue Mass. Group, said “the perfect storm of factors” has hindered Coakley.

“It’s a combination of disenchantment with Democratic leadership, the fairly well-organized invasion of Tea Partiers . . . and a lot of mistakes by the Coakley campaign,” Kravitz said.

That the late Kennedy’s legacy on health care will either be protected or pummeled by his successor only adds to the high drama.

“It would certainly be a really sad irony if Scott Brown wins the race and ends up being the vote that derails the bill that Ted Kennedy wanted,” Kravitz said.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin projects between 1.6 million and 2.2 million voters, out of a total of 4 million, will show up at the polls today despite weather predictions of a mix of rain and snow. More than 105,000 voters have applied for absentee ballots.

Also on the ballot is unenrolled candidate Joseph L. Kennedy, of no relation to the famous family.

“The level of interest has clearly picked up,” Galvin said. “I’ve never seen a negative commercial on the Weather Channel before.”

{Boston Herald/Noam Newscenter}