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New Republican Mantra: "Brownie, You're Doing a Heck of a Job''

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Nearly a month ago, Attorney General Martha Coakley, leading in the polls by a comfortable 30 points, seemed to be cruising over a little known Republican state senator, Scott Brown.

Three days before the Massachusetts special election, the unthinkable has happened: Coakley and Brown find themselves in a foot race, in one of the most Democratic states in the nation, the home state of the "liberal lion'' Edward Kennedy whose seat both candidates are vying for in which the stakes couldn't be higher.

At stake is the decisive 60th vote in passing health care reform; a Brown upset presumably shatters President Obama's hope of signing into law a historic overhaul of nation's health care, something the late Senator Kennedy championed during his 47 distinguished years in the Senate.

As far as New England comebacks go, a Brown victory on Tuesday would be akin to the Boston Red Sox storming back from a 0-3 deficit to the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1986.
Edward Brooke, in 1967, was the last Massachusetts Republican elected (re-elected in 1972) to a U.S. Senate seat.

How could this have happened in a state in which Republicans only account for 11.4 percent of the voting population out of a total of 4.1 million voters? More than 37 percent are Democrats in the "Bay State.''

Other than Coakley inexplicably taking a six-day breather while her opponent worked the stump like there was no tomorrow, Massachusetts Democrats seemed to have misread the voting bloc that mattered most: the Independent voters or the "unenrolled'' who account for 51 percent of voters in Massachusetts.

And this critical slice of the voting population seemed to have grown disillusioned with President Obama and the U.S. Congress, particularly over health care and Mr. Brown's opposition to the White House decision to try terrorists in civil courts rather than tribunals, an issue that seems to be upsetting a majority of voters.

In a recent CBS News poll, 54 percent of respondents disapprove of the way President Obama has handled health care; a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, moreover, shows 62 percent think the country is headed in the wrong direction; while a Quinnipiac University poll reports 63 to 25 percent of American voters think the government's anti-terrorist policies caters to civil liberties at the expense of national security.

This on top of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's awkward and antiquated references (recently disclosed) about the complexion of Barack Obama's skin and his chances of being elected president, and you have to ask yourself-exactly which party is out of touch?

Responding to the closer than expected Senate race in Massachusetts, Dennis Hale, Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston College, thinks that if the "Democrats continue to pretend that everyone outside the Democratic party is a loony right-wing extremist who wants to take the nation back to the stone age, then they will continue to lose voters.''

The fact there only 15 percent registered Republicans in Massachusetts is to misread the political landscape. Hale points out that the Republican Party hasn't had much of a presence for decades; which is the reason many voters who would normally register as Republicans in other more balanced states, simply register as "unenrolled.''

And how can an electorate struggling in a historic recession not blame Washington for what ails them. Rachael Cobb, Assistant Professor in the Government Department at Suffolk University, reminds me of the widely cited Suffolk University Poll (click here for PDF), which shows 90 percent of Massachusetts residents still don't think we're out of the recession yet.

Concerned about the growing trend of Independent voters tilting to the Republicans corner; and terrified of losing Ted Kennedy's seat to, (gulp!), a candidate who promises to vote against health care reform, Bill Clinton (on Friday) and President Obama (on Sunday) made mad dashes to Massachusetts to push Coakley over the top and secure the crucial 60th vote in the U.S. Senate.

Obama took a huge gamble, though, personally stumping for Coakley.

Despite his celebrity status from coast-to-coast; his very presence might drive home an anti-Washington sentiment brewing in the country; one that is dissatisfied with the Democratic Party and especially disappointed the president hasn't rearranged the furniture in Washington like he promised he would do as a candidate. With backroom deals to Ben Nelson of Nebraska (in which the federal government agreed to pick up Nebraska's tab for the expansion of Medicaid in exchange for his vote); and now another apparent back room deal with labor unions that will shield them from high-end insurance taxes for five years; it must seem to more and more American voters--that nothing has really changed in Washington--only the faces.

On the other hand, should Coakley squeeze out a win on Tuesday, it would be a definite game-changer in that her victory will be attributed to Obama's 11th hour surge; and more importantly, translated as a referendum on his domestic agenda.

But was it a risk worth taking?

James A. Morone, Chair and Professor of Political Science at Brown University, cautions that if Brown does end up pulling off the upset, the Democrats are in trouble with a capital T.

Morone argues, all things considered, Obama has performed pretty well by the way he's rallied support for health care reform and cap-and-trade, with an approval rate above 50 percent despite a battered economy. ``Scott Brown ends all that'', Morone said. ``And to lose it all now would be one of the greatest examples of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory that I can think of. Truly a historic political disaster.''

If Brown wins on Tuesday, the Republican Party once thought dead and buried not so long ago-will have new life in knowing if they can win in a Democratic stronghold like Massachusetts--all things are possible.

As Conservative columnist George Will said on ABC's "This Week'' on Sunday``He [Obama] has done more in one year what it took Lyndon Johnson two years (1965-66); which is revitalize the Republican Party.''

-Bill Lucey
WPLucey@gmail.com