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As Brown edges ahead in poll, Bill Clinton stumps for Coakley

Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown are bringing in their parties' stars as they battle to win Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in a Jan. 19 special election. Bill Clinton is stumping for Coakley in Massachusetts Friday.

By Tracey SamuelsonCorrespondent / January 15, 2010

Candidate for the US Senate seat left empty by the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat Martha Coakley waves as she departs the Joseph Abboud clothing factory after a campaign stop, in New Bedford, Mass. on Thursday.

Steven Senne/AP

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Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) and state Sen. Scott Brown (R) are pulling out the big guns as the race to replace Sen. Edward Kennedy in the US Senate heads into the final stretch.

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Former Democratic President Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani are both in Massachusetts Friday to campaign for their party’s candidate in the Jan. 19 special election.

A new poll released late Thursday found Mr. Brown had pulled ahead of Ms. Coakley, who was thought to be safe for the seat early in the race. The Suffolk University/7News poll found 50 percent of likely voters now support Brown, compared with 46 for Coakley.

Just 3 percent of voters said they'd vote for independent candidate Joseph Kennedy (no relation to the late senator), and only 1 percent were undecided.

Whoever wins on Tuesday could be in sworn into the Senate in time to vote on the final version of the healthcare reform bill. A Coakley win – she has pledged to support the bill – would maintain Democrats’ 60-vote majority enabling them to override a Republican filibuster. But if Mr. Brown wins, he has vowed to be the 41st vote needed to defeat the bill.

That means both parties are willing to do what it takes to ensure victory for their candidate.

Mr. Clinton, who will attend two events with Coakley on Friday, is much loved in Massachusetts and has “a magical ability to motivate voters here,” says Charles Stewart, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. He notes that Clinton has always had success fundraising in the state over the years.

Compared with Clinton, Mayor Giuliani may not seem to bring much star power for Brown.

But he’s the “one A-list Republican who has credibility with Massachusetts voters,” says Mr. Stewart, adding that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are seen to be too much to the right to appeal to the state's large number of centrist, independent voters.

Massachusetts’ independent voters are an important demographic for Brown given that registered Republicans are only roughly 11 percent of Massachusetts voters. Guiliani is likely to try to position Brown as tougher on terrorism than Coakley, something Brown has stressed in his campaign.

For both candidates, this is exactly the right time to pull out the big-name endorsements. “Most voters, especially the most malleable, only start paying attention at the end of a race,” Stewart says.

Clinton recorded robocalls endorsing Coakley before the Dec. 8 primary. Coakley also received support from members of the Kennedy family on the campaign trail last week, and Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, continued her support of Coakley with an e-mail blast to supporters yesterday.

Late Thursday, President Obama released a videotaped message in support of Coakley. There has been speculation that Mr. Obama would appear at a campaign event in Massachusetts Sunday, though the White House has said the president has no such plans.

In the video, Obama describes his current battles for healthcare, financial, and energy reform, before outlining what he believes is at stake in Tuesday's election.

"[Martha will] be your voice and my ally, which is why the opponents of change are pouring money into your state," Obama says. "They believe that by defeating Martha and replacing Ted Kennedy with her Republican opponent, they'll be in a position to tie up the Senate and prevent a vote on health insurance reform, financial reform, and other issues."

Other prominent politicians who have previously endorsed Brown include Senator McCain, Governor Romney, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

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