It is rare in the history of our politics for an election for an office
other than president to have profound consequences for the future of our
nation. But one such election is Tuesday, when voters in Massachusetts
will select someone to fill the two remaining years of the U.S. Senate
term of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Part of the reason why this election is more important than almost every
other Senate race in history is arithmetical. Democrats have 60
senators, including Paul Kirk, who was appointed to keep the seat warm
after Sen. Kennedy died last August. Democrats need 60 votes to end
filibusters. If the Republican candidate, state Sen. Scott Brown,
defeats the Democratic candidate, state Attorney General Martha Coakley,
Democrats will have only 59.
In a normal year, this arithmetic would be academic. There are three
times as many registered Democrats in Massachusetts as registered
Republicans. Sen. Kennedy won his last race by 38 percentage points.
In his last race, the state's other Democratic senator, John Kerry to
whom no one has ever applied the world "charisma" received more than
twice as many votes as his GOP opponent. A yellow dog running on the
Democratic line ought to be able to defeat any Republican by at least 20
Democrats probably wish they'd nominated a yellow dog instead of Ms.
Coakley, because most recent polls indicate the race is a statistical
A perfect storm is required to elect a Republican statewide in
Massachusetts. But it may have formed.
First, this is a special election, where Democratic turnout
traditionally has been lower.
Second, Mr. Brown, a handsome, affable man who speaks well and works
hard, is a very good candidate.
Third, Ms. Coakley isn't. She coasted after the Democratic primary,
thinking the general election was just a formality. And when she has
spoken, she's taken positions unpopular even in liberal Massachusetts,
displaying both arrogance and astonishing gaps in knowledge.
Fourth and most important, independents the largest voting bloc in
Massachusetts really dislike both Obamacare and Democratic Gov.
Deval Patrick, to whom Ms. Coakley is linked.
But independents do like Mr. Brown. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic
firm, noted his favorable to unfavorable ratio is higher than it was for
Bob McDonnell, who was elected governor of Virginia in a landslide last
November, and for Chris Christie, who unseated an incumbent Democratic
governor in heavily Democratic New Jersey.
The sheer weight of numbers should still make Ms. Coakley the favorite.
But favorites don't go negative in the final week of a campaign, as Ms.
Coakley has, clumsily. In one attack ad, she misspelled
"Massachusetts." In another, she linked Mr. Brown to "Washington
Republicans" George W. Bush and Rush Limbaugh, neither of whom reside in
Panicked national Democrats poured more than a million dollars into the
Coakley campaign in the last week. Lobbyists for the pharmaceutical and
health insurance industries fearful that a critical vote for
Obamacare may be slipping from their grasp held a fund raiser for her
in Washington last Tuesday.
The day before, Mr. Brown raised more than $1.3 million on line, nearly
all of it in small contributions from individuals.
Mr. Brown's online fund raising was boosted by a boffo performance in
his debate with Ms. Coakley at the University of Massachusetts Jan. 11.
An incident outside the debate hall suggests the last minute bucks from
special interest groups may not be enough to pull it out for the
Standing in the cold before the debate began were two union members
holding Coakley signs. Ms. Coakley strode past them without comment.
Scott Brown went over to them and said hello. The union members said
they were only there holding the signs because they'd been paid $50 to
do it, and that they both intended to vote for Mr. Brown.
Democrats in Massachusetts say that if Mr. Brown wins, they may delay
his swearing in so he can't be the 41st vote against Obamacare. But
this tactic may not work because of the shiver of fear a Republican win
in Massachusetts would send down the spines of Democrats in Congress.
At her DC fundraiser with the lobbyists, Ms. Coakley said: "If I don't
win, 2010 is going to be hell for Democrats." That's the most true
thing she's said all campaign.