Monday, January 18, 2010

WORCESTER, Mass. | Scott Brown, the Republican Senate candidate seeking to fill the seat held for nearly 50 years by liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy, had a simple message Sunday for why Massachusetts voters should send him to Washington.

“I want to be the person to go down there to send health care back to the drawing board,” he shouted to cheers from several hundred supporters, standing on a bare concrete floor in the makeshift campaign headquarters on Grafton Street.

“You’ll be sending a message, a message that will be heard around the nation,” Mr. Brown said to more hoots and hollers from the crowd, which ranged from young to old, some in suits, others in flannel shirts and baseball caps.

Outside, motorists honked their horns at the sight of the Brown campaign bus.

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Later, hundreds more supporters packed into Mechanic’s Hall, a 19th-century concert hall, whooping their approval for Mr. Brown’s straightforward message summed up on his campaign brochures: “Create jobs, cut wasteful spending and lower taxes.”

But it is his message on health care — and more, his pledge to be the man to kill the trillion-dollar plan — that is resonating across Massachusetts. In September, Mr. Brown trailed his Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, by 30 points. The latest poll puts him two points ahead.

“The political experts are still wondering how this little campaign of ours grew so fast and gathered so much strength and momentum,” Mr. Brown said to laughter from a boisterous crowd at Mechanic’s Hall.

“The reason is simple. We do not want a senator whose only question on health care is to ask [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, ‘Hey, Harry, how do you want me to vote?’ Massachusetts wants real reform, and not this trillion-dollar Obama health care bill being forced on the American people,” he said to thunderous applause.

The special election Tuesday — a day before President Obama’s first anniversary in office — has become a national referendum on the health care reforms proposed by the president and crafted by Senate Democrats, who employed backroom deals to win support from wary members. The outcome will determine whether Democrats in the Senate keep their 60-seat “supermajority” or Republicans win a 41st vote to derail health care — which prompts Brown supporters’ chant of “41, 41.”

High-powered operatives from both parties have flooded into towns and cities across Massachusetts, intent on turning out their respective bases. In a state that Mr. Obama won by 27 percentage points in 2008, Ms. Coakley was considered a shoo-in for the seat. But that was before the national unemployment rate topped 10 percent and before independents began to grow disillusioned with “Obamacare.”

Mr. Obama himself made a rare Sunday trip out of the White House to campaign for Ms. Coakley in Boston, less than a week after White House spokesman Robert Gibbs dismissively said the president had “no plans” to do so. Mr. Brown mocked the move.

“Now, it wasn’t exactly a scheduled visit,” he said to derisive laughter from the crowd. “Sort of a last-minute thing. The political machine controlled that Senate seat, he was told, and it was going to stay that way.

“Well, the party bosses gave the president some bad information. This Senate seat belongs to no one person and no one political party. It belongs to the people of Massachusetts,” Mr. Brown said to more cheers.

A triathlete and lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts National Guard, Mr. Brown is tall and slim. His thick brown hair is tinged with gray, and he has a Hollywood smile. Cosmopolitan magazine dubbed him “America’s Sexiest Man” when he was a 22-year-old law student at Boston College.

In this staunchly liberal state, Mr. Brown has positioned himself carefully. He is fiscally conservative — favoring tax cuts and opposing government expansion and excessive spending — but is more liberal on social issues. He supports a general right to abortion and opposes a federal constitutional amendment declaring marriage as between a man and a woman.

In his final sales pitch to voters, Mr. Brown is appealing to independent-minded voters, trying to portray himself as an outsider ready to buck the business-as-usual world of Washington.

“I don’t need an establishment to prop me up. I stand before you as the proud candidate of Democrats, Republicans and independents across Massachusetts, north and south, east and west. The party machine is in high gear for my opponent. The establishment is afraid of losing their Senate seat,” he said.

Turnout, which is notoriously low in special elections, will be critical, and Democrats and Republicans worked feverishly to get out the vote. Mr. Obama’s Organizing for America had 3,500 volunteers in the state, making 575,000 voter contacts just on Saturday.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sent an e-mail urging supporters to make calls on Mr. Brown’s behalf, while former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove used his Twitter account to link to a phone-banking site.

Democrats hope Mr. Obama can rally their loyalists in the tight race, but the president’s popularity has faded in the past year. Even in deep-blue Massachusetts, according to a Suffolk University poll released Thursday, only 48 percent approve of Mr. Obama’s performance. In November, Democrats Jon Corzine and R. Creigh Deeds lost their respective gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia despite Mr. Obama’s campaigning for them.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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