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How Scott Brown is closing gap on Martha Coakley in Senate race

Scott Brown has used healthcare reform and homeland security to his advantage in Massachusetts. Martha Coakley’s campaign, meanwhile, has been widely criticized for complacency.

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National political figures have also gotten involved. Brown has been endorsed by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona and conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, who called Coakley an “entrenched machine candidate” and a “sock puppet” for her party on his show Tuesday. Coakley has enjoyed support from former President Clinton, who made robo-calls on her behalf before the Dec. 8 primary and is scheduled to campaign with her on Friday.

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Simply put, “this race has been nationalized,” Professor Berry says.

Domestic terrorism

When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to blow up a plane on Christmas Day, domestic terrorism became a bigger political issue.

Brown has used the attack, as well as his 30 years in the National Guard, to position himself as the homeland-security candidate in the Senate race. In the final debate between the candidates on Monday, he repeatedly accused Coakley of allowing terrorist suspects to “lawyer up.”

“To give people who want to kill us constitutional rights and lawyer them up at our expense instead of treating them as enemy combatants and getting as much information as we can ... it doesn’t make sense to me,” Brown said.

Coakley’s campaign

While Brown has been working to energize his base and attract independent voters, Coakley’s campaign has been widely criticized for its perceived complacency.

“Coakley made a strategic error in not trying to define [Brown] before he could define himself,” Berry says. “She ceded the stage to him, and he put her on the defensive.”

The Coakley campaign’s strategy might have been to minimize Brown. But her silence about Brown allowed him to get out his own message largely uncontested.

“As Brown was improving his name recognition, Coakley’s campaign did not put any bruises on him,” says Dan Payne, a Massachusetts-based Democratic media consultant.

In Monday’s debate, Coakley tried to combat allegations of complacency, saying her only pause in campaigning was for Christmas. She has also tried in recent days to shift the debate to issues that she believes will favor her, such as abortion.

The independent voter

Even though Massachusetts is one of the bluest states, there are more independent voters than the sum of Democrats and Republicans.

“A lot of independents in the state are former Democrats who left the party. Some are conservatives,” explains Todd Domke, a Massachusetts-based GOP strategist. “If you’re unhappy with status quo, Scott Brown gives you a chance to fire a shot that would be heard around the world.”

That’s tempting for voters who might want to send a message to Washington.

“The winds are blowing against Democrats nationally right now,” agrees Mr. Payne. “You have to factor that into this race.”

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