Big risks in Obama's bid to boost Martha Coakley for Senate

President Obama will come to Massachusetts Sunday to help bolster Martha Coakley, the Democratic nominee for the US Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy. But the move could help challenger Scott Brown.

Michael Dwyer/AP
A line of people stretches along Huntington Ave. in Boston to enter a campaign rally at which President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak in support of Massasschuetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Coakley, a Democrat, is campaigning for the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

President Obama’s decision to wade into the race for Massachusetts' open US Senate seat, attending a campaign rally for Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in Boston Sunday, is not without risk – for both him and for Ms. Coakley.

The visit could give Democrats a moral boost, underscoring the conviction that the US Senate seat held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy is a matter of national importance, says Dan Payne, a Democratic media consultant based in the state.

“On the other hand, it may be that Obama represents what independents don’t like about Washington right now,” he adds.

For Mr. Obama, Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the Senate is on the line – the 60-seat majority that would allow Senate Democrats to pass healthcare and energy reform without any support from Republicans. Without passing these signature bills, the Democrats could have few major accomplishments to tout in the midterm elections this November.

For Coakley, the prospect of losing the Senate seat formerly held by Senator Kennedy to a Republican in Massachusetts – a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 3 to 1 – would be a monumental disappointment.

Brown's Beltway attack

Republican challenger Scott Brown has built his campaign around linking Coakley to the Democratic establishment and by promising to be the 41st vote Republicans need to kill a final vote on healthcare reform.

Even in Massachusetts, which gave Obama a 26 percentage point victory in 2008, there is deep frustration about Wall Street bailouts, the congressional deals made to secure the passage of healthcare reform, and persistently high unemployment rates, Mr. Payne says.

“When the president comes in tomorrow, remind him it’s us against the machine,” Mr. Brown told a rally of supporters Saturday.

In a recent Suffolk University poll, 66 percent of likely voters said they believe Coakley would toe the Democratic party line if elected. Moreover, while 55 percent of voters said they have a generally favorable impression of Obama, only 48 percent approve of job he’s doing as president.

“Who wouldn’t want the president campaigning for her in a historic race?” Coakley said when asked by reporters about whether Obama should stay in Washington and attend to other pressing national and international issues, such as Haiti relief and crafting a final healthcare reform bill.

Obama's short coattails

But Obama's coattails have been far from reliable, and Obama's political clout could take a fresh hit if Coakley should lose Tuesday. This fall, Obama stumped for two Democratic candidates in governor's races – incumbent New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds – and both lost.

He also flew to the International Olympic Committee meeting in Copenhagen to support Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Chicago was eliminated on the first ballot.

Then again, with so much riding on this race, Obama may have had no choice but to intervene.

“This race was going to be seen as a referendum on Obama anyway,” Payne says. “He might as well come and see if he can influence it rather than sitting in Washington as a spectator.”


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