Massachusetts Senate race: Democratic big guns join the fight

Bill Clinton was on the stump Friday for Democrat Martha Coakley, who’s now trailing Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race. President Obama will campaign there Sunday.

Gretchen Ertl/AP
Former President Bill Clinton hugs Rep. Jim McGovern as U.S. Senate candidate Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley waves to the crowd during a campaign appearance at Worcester Polytechnic Institute Friday.

Former President Clinton headlined a fundraiser Friday for the Democratic candidate in the Massachusetts Senate race to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s seat. Just before he took the stage, the White House confirmed that President Obama would make a similar campaign stop here Sunday.

Why is Attorney General Martha Coakley getting such attention from the most prominent members of the Democratic Party?

It’s a tight race between Ms. Coakley and her Republican challenger, state Sen. Scott Brown: A poll released late Thursday shows Coakley has fallen behind Mr. Brown by four percentage points. Much of Mr. Obama’s agenda depends on Democrats’ filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate.

“This is not about healthcare. Any bill except the federal budget can be filibustered,” Mr. Clinton proclaimed, after touting Coakley’s positions for financial and healthcare reform.

Massachusetts’ Senate race has received national attention because Coakley has promised to vote for the healthcare reform bill while Brown has promised to vote against it. That means the fate of the bill effectively rests with Massachusetts voters Tuesday.

Focus on jobs and the economy

But if there was a new element to Friday’s rally, it was to amp up the focus of the race on jobs and the economy. In the same Suffolk University poll that had Coakley trailing Brown, 44 percent of voters said that the economy and jobs are the most important issues for them in this race.

Across-the-board tax cuts won’t create new jobs, Coakley and Clinton said, repeatedly trying to use Brown’s pledge to cut taxes to tie him to the policies of former President George W. Bush.

The national Democratic Party has not only lent Coakley its star politicians, but it’s also pouring money into television ads for the campaign. Between state and federal organizations, the Democratic Party will spend the maximum $880,000 allowed in coordination with Coakley’s campaign, state party chairman John Walsh told The Boston Globe Wednesday.

While former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani campaigned for Brown in Massachusetts Friday, the national Republican Party hasn't offered up the same kinds of funds. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has not purchased television ads for Brown.

But Brown is not hurting for money. His campaign announced that it brought in $1.3 million in a 24-hour period after the candidates’ final debate Monday. The Daily Caller, a new online publication launched by conservative Tucker Carlson, reports that Brown has raised $1 million dollars each day this week.

The momentum for Brown seems to be internally generated and self-sustained, says Charles Stewart, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Can Clinton and Obama change the game?

“Given that, how much of a game-changer can Obama or Clinton be? It will remind a few people who have been on the fence about why they supported the Democrats in 2008,” says Professor Stewart. “But if there’s going to be a groundswell to Brown, I’m not sure there’s much these visits can do to counter that.”

David Paleologos, a pollster at Suffolk University in Boston who conducted Thursday’s poll, agrees.

“If there was a high number of undecided voters, I’d be looking to components like endorsements,” says Mr. Paleologos. “But polls indicates that only 1 percent of voters remain undecided.”

Sen. John Kerry, who was also attended the rally along with other members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, argued that Democrats need more time to accomplish the change they’ve promised, including healthcare, energy, and financial reform.

“You just can’t get where we need to go so quickly,” Senator Kerry said.

It was a message that resonated with educator Mary Garrity, a Democrat who was in the crowd.

“What frustrates me is Brown’s plan to paralyze the government with this ‘no’ vote,” Ms. Garrity said. “It’ll have huge consequences in the midterm elections if no one can accomplish anything.”


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