OSTON — President Barack Obama fought Sunday to prevent a Democratic defeat in a closer-than-expected Massachusetts Senate race that has raised Republican hopes of sinking his health care reform plan and other domestic policy priorities.
Meanwhile, the White House and congressional Democrats scrambled to pass health care legislation quickly in case of a loss.
Just how much voters have soured since Obama took over a country in chaos a year ago was reflected in the president’s decision to put his prestige on the line and rush to Massachusetts to campaign for the embattled Democratic Senate candidate, state Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Despite the state’s long Democratic tradition, polls show Coakley and Republican Scott Brown, a little known state senator, locked in a dead heat heading into Tuesday’s special election. The contest is to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a proud liberal who was a leading advocate for health care reform during his nearly 47 years in the Senate.
The outcome could determine the fate of the Democrats’ health care reform bill, the president’s signature domestic policy issue. Coakley supports the bill. Brown doesn’t.
A Brown victory would rob Democrats of the 60-vote Senate super majority Obama has been relying on to pass much of his agenda and thwart Republican use of the filibuster — a legislative manoeuvr to block a final vote on a bill. Brown tells voters he looks forward to becoming “the 41st vote” to block the president’s initiatives.
“When the chips are down, when the tough votes come on the fights that matter to middle-class families around this Commonwealth, who is going to be on your side?” the president asked during a rally for Coakley as he tried to energize his dispirited base in this Democratic stronghold. “Martha’s going to be on your side.”
The president also made a direct appeal to independents who are trending away from the Democrat and he assailed the Republican candidate. “It’s hard to suggest he’s going to be significantly independent from the Republican agenda,” Obama said.
The unexpectedly tight race for the seat held so long by Kennedy, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 3-to-1, reflects a nasty anti-establishment environment that threatens Obama’s support in Congress now and heading into this fall’s midterm elections when control of both houses will be at stake.
Brown has tapped into voter anger and anxiety over federal spending to pull even with Coakley.