Brawl in Massachusetts

Here’s what’s at stake in today’s special Massachusetts election to fill the U.S. Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for so many years — at least according to some observers.

✔ “It’s whether we’re going forward or backward:” President Barack Obama during a rally for Democrat Martha Coakley on Sunday. He also said her Republican opponent Scott Brown is a vote for Wall Street bankers, while Coakley has “got your back.”

✔ “I’m running in the name of every independent candidate to take on the political machine and their candidate:” Scott Brown, in his latest campaign ad.

✔ “We could have a gigantic (stock) rally off a Coakley loss and a Brown win. It will be a signal that a more pro-business, less pro-labor government could be in front of us:” Former Obama supporter and television financial analyst Jim Cramer.

✔ “If Scott Brown wins, it’ll kill the health bill:” Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. On this issue, apparently, some Republicans and Democrats agree. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the Massachusetts vote today “a referendum” on Democrats’ health care proposal.

There’s more than a little hyper-charged rhetoric in all these statements. Still, it would be a huge upset if a Republican won the Senate seat held for so long by Kennedy in a state dominated by Democrats. That possibility is more than wishful thinking by Republicans. The five most recent polls regarding the race — by Democratic-leaning pollsters, Republican-leaning ones and idependents — all show Brown solidly leading Coakley.

And, while Coakley may have Obama and other Democratic leaders in her corner, Brown has his own big-name backers, some of whom may be more important in Massachusetts. Leading the list is former Boston Red Sox pitching ace Curt Schilling.

One senator won’t change the entire complexion of Congress, even if he would make it more difficult for Democrats to overcome a Republican filibuster. For instance, plans are already under discussion in Congress to move the health care bill forward without requiring 60 votes in the Senate.

Nor will a Brown victory signal a seismic shift to Republican policies that voters rejected a little more than a year ago. It will be independents who cast the decisive votes in Massachusetts, and it is independents who consistently reject the most ideological wings of both parties.

But if a Republican does win in the Democratic bastion of Massachusetts, it will be potent evidence that public disaffection with the ambitious Democratic agenda isn’t limited to a few far-right folks who have joined tea party rallies, as Democrats have claimed since last summer.


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