- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2010

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. | A discernible “enthusiasm gap” has emerged in Massachusetts ahead of Tuesday’s Senate special election, leaving Democrat Martha Coakley wheezing as Republican Scott Brown races toward the finish line, powered by passionate crowds enraged at President Obama’s health care plans.

Last-minute polls showed Mr. Brown, a state senator, grabbing a lead over Ms. Coakley, the state’s attorney general, in a race that both sides now say will determine whether President Obama can carry through on his nascent agenda.

“Right now, people are disgusted at the health care bill and how it’s going and why it’s going that way, the carve-outs, the special exceptions. We can do better,” Mr. Brown said as he shook hands outside a Boston Bruins hockey game.

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The election to fill the seat of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who died last summer, is coming down to whether the Democratic machine he created will turn out to vote and overcome anger at the health care bill Kennedy would have been pushing were he still alive.

“Every vote matters, every voice matters,” Mr. Obama said in a new TV ad for Ms. Coakley.

In a last-minute appeal that showed the president campaigning with Ms. Coakley a day earlier, Mr. Obama declares: “We need you on Tuesday.”

But in the run-up to voting, anger appears to be winning.

Hours before a last-day rally for Ms. Coakley, workers pulled a long drape across midcourt at a middle school gymnasium in Framingham, a bedroom community 20 miles west of Boston. The curtain cut the small space in half, but the gym was still only a quarter full, with just a couple of hundred people standing near a podium. Thirty minutes before the event, workers slid back into place a stack of bleachers to prevent a huge gap in front of the candidate.

Meanwhile, Mr. Brown drew hundreds of supporters to street rallies in Boston and North Andover, mobs that braved a steady sleet in wind chills that dipped into the teens.

“We love you, Scott,” one man yelled outside TD Garden before a Boston Bruins hockey game. Another told him face to face: “I can’t wait to vote for you tomorrow.”

The crowds followed another Brown rally Sunday in Worcester, where more than 1,000 supporters packed a concert hall and, according to Brown aides, more than 1,000 other supporters flooded into an overflow ballroom in a nearby hotel.

Inside Mechanics Hall, crowds chanted, “The people’s seat” — Mr. Brown’s populist campaign slogan — and cheered for more than an hour as Brown staffers paraded hand-painted signs across the stage.

“These are Palin-sized crowds,” one staffer said, referring to the throngs that turned out to see Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign.

At the Coakley rally Monday, minutes before the Democrat appeared, a staffer took the stage to encourage the crowd to “get fired up.” A smattering of applause began but died quickly.

The enthusiasm gap extends online, where Mr. Brown racked up an impressive 258,252 views for his official videos in three days, more than double Ms. Coakley’s all-time video views of 94,970. David Burch, marketing director of TubeMogul Inc., which tracks video views, said Mr. Brown’s average views per video is also much higher, at 15,307, compared with Ms. Coakley’s 1,607.

That gap could end up being the difference in the race with Mr. Brown running a campaign that highlights his pickup truck and “regular guy” status and that taps into that dissatisfaction.

A virtually unknown state senator trailing by more than 30 percentage points in September, Mr. Brown has pulled ahead of the state’s attorney general in the most recent polls. He has been boosted by a major swing among independents, who make up more than half of the state’s voters.

“It is really about the independents. The Republicans never were for Obama, and what you’re talking about is the percentage of independents Obama has lost,” said Dean Debnam, founder of Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm.

His firm, in its latest poll from Massachusetts, found Mr. Brown leading Ms. Coakley 51 percent to 46 percent.

The same poll showed that when it came to voter enthusiasm, Republicans trounced Democrats with 89 percent of self-identified Republicans saying they were “very excited” to vote Tuesday, while 63 percent of Democrats said they were. Among independents, 68 percent said they were “very excited.”

Democrats claimed they were engaged but found themselves begging voters to turn out.

“Passion only matters if people get to the polls,” J.B. Poersch, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in an e-mail fundraising plea Monday.

Weather could play a big factor in turnout. With fresh snow on the ground expected to turn icy overnight, Tuesday’s forecast calls for snow showers throughout the day and a wind-chill factor putting temperatures in the 20s.

In the campaign’s final hours Monday, Ms. Coakley rolled out a new TV ad featuring Mr. Obama at a rally with her in Boston a day earlier.

“Martha knows the struggles Massachusetts’ working families face because she’s lived those struggles. She’s fought for the people of Massachusetts every single day,” Mr. Obama is shown saying in the spot during a gymnasium rally at Northeastern University. He says Ms. Coakley “took on Wall Street” as attorney general, while going after big insurance companies and predatory lenders. “Every vote matters, every voice matters. We need you on Tuesday,” he adds.

Mr. Obama and Ms. Coakley have carefully tamped down talk of health care, even though a Brown victory would provide Senate Republicans with the 41st vote needed to end the Democrats’ Senate supermajority and filibuster the president’s bill.

Instead, Ms. Coakley and her surrogates mentioned George W. Bush, laying blame on the former president for the country’s economic problems.

“I wish there were easy answers to the tough problems we have,” Ms. Coakley said, echoing an Obama refrain. “Do not forget that they are problems that were not created by, but inherited by, our president, Barack Obama.”

At the middle school event, she also followed the lead of Mr. Obama, mentioning health care only once while pounding Mr. Brown as a Wall Street champion who is looking to shield big banks from a new tax.

Mr. Debnam’s polls showed that voters in Massachusetts oppose Democrats’ health care plans 48 percent to 40 percent.

Sensing an opening, Mr. Brown continued to hammer that issue and to pitch himself as “a regular guy.”

“I’m Scott Brown from Wrentham. I drive a truck, you know,” he said, and mocked Mr. Obama’s charge that Mr. Brown is driving his truck “the wrong direction.”

“He can criticize me as much as he wants, but when he talks about my truck, that’s where I draw the line. Unfortunately, because of some of the policies happening in Washington, people can’t afford to buy trucks,” Mr. Brown said.

Both campaigns bombarded supporters with automated phone calls, the Democrats using appeals from Mr. Obama and former President Bill Clinton and the Republicans using calls from Mr. Brown and former Boston Red Sox star pitcher Curt Schilling.

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