With the race for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat nearing a nail-biting conclusion, Democrats claim they gained a major boost Thursday night after Republican Scott Brown said he opposes a proposed tax on big banks that is designed to regain TARP funds and curb compensation practices.
The Massachusetts state senator, who vaulted ahead of his opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley in one of several late-stage polls, told the Wall Street Journal that he is "opposed to higher taxes, especially in the midst of a severe recession."
"Raising taxes will kill jobs," Brown's campaign added in a statement. "Martha Coakley's tax-raising policies will make it harder to get our economy back on the right track."
In coming out against the big-bank tax, Brown joins the ranks of other conservatives including Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. But it may be dangerous political terrain. In the minutes after Brown's position went public, the Democratic Party machinery trumpeted it as a revelation of his proximity to both the financial industry and the far right. A strategist working on the race emailed the Huffington Post with the following synopsis:
This is significant marker... this is Brown giving up the populist ground that was fueling his campaign. It also undermines his central argument that he's not a lockstep Republican who will put Wall Street ahead of middle class families. Look for us to highlight and make him pay the price for this choice [Friday].
Democrats appear intent to use the big-bank tax as a political cudgel in the weeks and months going forward. On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs all but dared Republicans to oppose the measure, which would raise an estimated $180 million in revenue per firm per year.
"If you want to be on the side of big banks," Gibbs said, "this is a great country, you're free to do so."
But it's not just Brown and Steele who are opposing the tax. On Friday morning, potential New York Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford raised reservations about it. Playing to the financial-industry crowd that holds major sway inside the Empire State, the former Tennessean told the crew at MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that he did think "revenue has to be raised.
"But I'm concerned about the effect it will have on New York," he added. "Not just bankers but those who support this industry here, those who benefit form it. You heard both the mayor and governor state that no harm should be done. And I would ask both of the senators, Senator [Chuck] Schumer and [Kirsten] Gillibrand as they move forward, to ensure whatever is passed, whatever you vote yes for, that it do no harm to the city of New York and state of New York."
UPDATE: The Coakley campaign, as expected, put out a statement on Friday criticizing Brown for opposing the bank tax, calling it "a defining difference" in the election.
"This is a defining difference between us that every voter should consider before Tuesday," said Coakley. "I choose to stand with the middle class taxpayers who deserve to get their money back from the big banks that caused the economic crisis and are now lavishing bonuses on failed executives. Scott Brown is standing with Wall Street CEOs.
As Attorney General, I've stood up to Wall Street and recovered millions of dollars back for taxpayers. If you elect me as Senator, I'll continue to fight for you."