Special Elections (in Massachusetts) Do Matter !

Edward Kennedy’s death on August 25, 2009 gave Congressional Democrats a powerful assist in their efforts to pass healthcare reform, as this was an issue which he had championed for years. This assist was further strengthened when Massachusetts Democrats changed the law to allow for an interim (Democratic) replacement to be selected which would provide a crucial 60th Democratic vote for healthcare reform. Now, the possibility exists that healthcare reform may be affected again by the January 19 special election which will be held to select a replacement to the late Sen. Kennedy until his term expires in 2012.

 The reason that this special election has potential national impact is that the Republican candidate, state senator Scott Brown, has been emphasizing his opposition to healthcare reform  by stating that he’d be the “41st vote” against healthcare. His Democratic opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley, has not only emphasized her staunch support for healthcare reform, but also stated that “we need to get taxes up.” Which Brown has countered by running a TV ad emphasizing his support for tax cuts using former President John F Kennedy’s own words for the 1962 tax cut he supported.

 So what do the polls say ? Depending on whose polls you believe, polls so far have been as follows:

Public Policy Polling (a Democratic polling firm) shows the Republican leading 48-47% – they polled 744 likely voters between January 7-9

Rasmussen (a polling firm not viewed favorably in Democratic circles) shows Martha Coakley leading 50-41%  – they polled 500 likely voters on January 4

Boston Globe (known as a partisan Democratic newspaper) shows Martha Coakley leading 53-36%  – they polled 554 likely voters between January 2-6

Martha Coakley has the apparent advantage as a Democrat in Massachusetts – the last time a Republican won a Senate election in Massachusetts was in 1972, and only twice in the last 26 years has a Republican Senate candidate received 45% of the vote. However, declining support for the Democratic agenda among Independent voters and an energized Republican electorate have already led to Republican pickups in New Jersey and Virginia – and those pickups were BEFORE the healthcare bill passed the House or Senate. Plus, Brown through his TV ads has articulated a Republican agenda on healthcare and taxes that has obviously gained him some traction in recent days. While a Brown win would be a MAJOR upset, even a Coakley win of 55% or less suggests that there is a 10% dropoff on support for the Democratic agenda – and that dropoff in support would be deadly to Democratic candidates running in more politically marginal areas this fall.

My take on the race at this point: Coakley 50%, Brown 48%