Obama steps into suddenly taut Senate race

Will help Coakley fight to hold off surging Brown

By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / January 16, 2010

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With the latest poll showing Scott Brown nosing ahead of Martha Coakley, the Democratic nominee yesterday called on the head of her party, President Obama, to help her win Tuesday in a race once considered a sure thing for Coakley.

Obama will visit the Bay State tomorrow to provide Coakley with a jolt in a contest Democrats view with new urgency. The president’s trip - on the heels of a pair of Coakley rallies with former President Bill Clinton yesterday - signifies the seriousness with which national Democrats view the possibility of a Brown victory.

It is also certain to amplify the national attention this special election for US Senate has garnered as a popularity gauge on Obama’s initiatives and the Democratic leadership in Congress, particularly on health care.

Seeking the seat held for 47 years by Edward M. Kennedy, Brown has campaigned as the potential 41st vote to block the national health care legislation championed by the late Kennedy and by Obama, which Brown says would be unnecessary and costly for Massachusetts. Coakley, meanwhile, released an ad yesterday in which Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, urges voters to elect Coakley “to fill the term my husband didn’t have a chance to complete.’’

As the campaigns, their supporters, and outside groups yesterday unleashed a torrent of TV and radio ads, online appeals, and get-out-the-vote calls to line up voters, the two candidates initiated the statewide swings that will carry them through to Tuesday. Brown dubbed his the “Bold New Leadership’’ tour, and it includes a Quincy rally today with Bill Weld, the former governor. Coakley’s is called “Fighting for You,’’ and it includes a Boston rally with Vicki Kennedy, Diane Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral.

Democrats sought to project an air of confidence yesterday, even as a 7NEWS/Suffolk University poll released late Thursday put Brown, a Republican state senator, four points ahead of Coakley. A Suffolk poll two months ago showed Coakley, the state’s attorney general, holding a commanding 31-point lead over Brown, taken when each was seeking the nomination in the primary.

“We believe we’re ahead, but we’re not going to take our foot off the gas. There’s too much at stake,’’ said Eric Schultz, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which released a TV ad yesterday about health care and the bailout tax. It urges Massachusetts voters not to “let Scott Brown be the deciding vote to derail President Obama’s agenda for change.’’

Schultz declined to say what the committee - the political arm of Senate Democrats that works to bolster their ranks on the Capitol - spent on the ad or on other support for Coakley’s campaign.

Brown supporters immediately criticized the ad for including an image, apparently by accident, of the World Trade Center. Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who campaigned with Brown yesterday, denounced the clip as insensitive, calling it “among the most desperate campaign tactics I’ve ever seen.’’

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee responded by editing the ad to remove the image - a partial shot of one of the towers, incorporated as part of stock footage meant to signify Wall Street - before it could be televised, though a Brown supporter posted the original to YouTube.

The Democratic campaign committee also noted that Brown, as a state representative in October 2001, voted in the Massachusetts House against a measure to compensate state employees who had taken personal time to volunteer with the American Red Cross in New York after the terrorist attacks; Brown said the state could not afford to do so at the time, but he was one of just three no votes on a 148-3 roll call.

Coakley has received more national party aid than Brown, between the DSCC contributions and an estimated $650,000 in support from the Democratic National Committee. That DNC help includes staff sent from Washington to assist as well as e-mails from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, an online Obama video, and an automated call from the president that went out yesterday.

In the call, Obama begins with a polite greeting to voters who may feel besieged: “I rarely make these calls, and I truly apologize for intruding on your day. But I had to talk to you about the election in Massachusetts on Tuesday, because the stakes are so high.’’ Obama also expresses support for Coakley as a potential ally on major initiatives, without mentioning Brown, and asks people to make sure they spread the word that the election “to fill the unexpired term of Ted Kennedy’’ is Tuesday.

Brown built the foundation of his campaign on anti-tax sentiments and frustrations with Democratic leadership, and he has gained momentum courting independents and disenchanted Democrats with a pitch emphasizing his everyman status and lack of ties to Washington - messages underscored in a new Brown radio ad yesterday that collects the voices of supporters, most of them with unvarnished Boston accents.

Meanwhile, a Brown TV ad introduced yesterday featured grainy footage of Martha Coakley on a recent Washington trip to raise campaign funds, with the ad portraying her as a pawn for lobbyists.

Also, the American Future Fund, a conservative group that ran a negative ad against Coakley last week, returned yesterday with a new ad incorporating the same quote from Coakley - a “we need to get taxes up’’ line that appears to be taken out of context from remarks in a primary debate about improving the economy to increase tax collections.

Another conservative group, Tea Party Express, reported raising and spending over $200,000 to air an ad backing Brown as a candidate who will cut spending and lower taxes.

Activists nationally are charged up on both sides, donating from afar and, in some cases, traveling to Massachusetts for the final push. Corey Welford, a Coakley spokesman, said her campaign has filled continuous phone-bank shifts on 1,000 campaign-office phone lines between now and the election, with volunteers left over for a previously unplanned door-to-door canvass.

Several current and aspiring members of Congress and other officeholders have urged supporters via e-mail and Facebook to help, calling the race a vital one not just for Massachusetts but the country. “We need Martha Coakley in the United States Senate, and she needs your help. She is facing Tea Bag Republican Scott Brown who has vowed to kill health care legislation,’’ wrote Senate candidate Elaine Marshall, the North Carolina secretary of state, in a message to supporters asking them to make calls to Massachusetts voters from home.

On the Republican side, Texas congressional candidate Quico Canseco said he is turning his San Antonio headquarters into a Brown phone bank. And New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, a former US House member, followed a personal donation to Brown with a post last night on his Facebook wall: “Still time to volunteer for Scott Brown heading into this weekend! Every little bit helps - will you join me?’’