BOSTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will make last-minute campaign trip Sunday to support a Massachusetts Democrat who needs to win an unexpectedly close special election in order to keep health care reform alive.
The late-game White House aggressiveness in support of Martha Coakley, who is vying to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat, reflected deep concern Democrats could lose the seat and with it key vote in support of the health care reform bill.
Obama wants to get a health care bill — his top domestic priority — finished before he makes a State of the Union speech to Congress early next month.
The United States is the only major developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan for its citizens. About 50 million Americans are without health insurance. With unemployment rising, many Americans are losing health insurance when they lose jobs because employers provide health care plans.
“If Scott Brown wins, it’ll kill the health bill,” said Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, referring to Coakley’s Republican opponent.
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Beyond that, a poor outcome for Coakley on Tuesday would make moderate Democrats ever more nervous about backing Obama on other issues out of concern about their own re-election chances in November, undercutting his presidency just as he’s beginning his second year.
Democrats currently control just enough votes in the Senate to keep Republicans from blocking a vote in the Senate of Obama’s near-complete health care plan. If Coakley wins, she has said, she will vote, as Kennedy did, with the 57 other Democrats and two independents who side with them. Brown has made clear he would vote against the health plan, which all other Republicans oppose, giving Senate Republicans the one vote they need to block the legislation.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, Massachusetts’ top election official, said certifying Tuesday’s results could take more than two weeks, maybe enough time for Democrats to push Obama’s signature legislation through Congress before Brown could take office. Sen. Paul G. Kirk Jr., the interim appointee to Kennedy’s seat, says he will vote for the bill if given the chance.
Obama’s decision to travel to Massachusetts comes one day after a Suffolk University survey signaled a possible death knell for the 60-vote Senate supermajority the president has been relying upon to pass his health care bill and other initiatives through Congress before November’s midterm elections
The poll showed Brown, a Republican state senator, with 50 percent of the vote. Coakley had 46 percent. That amounted to a statistical tie since it was within the poll’s 4.4 percentage point margin of error, far different from the 15-point lead that Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general, enjoyed in a Boston Globe survey released last weekend.
Private, internal polling for both Republicans and Democrats showed a tight race, as well. Momentum was clearly on Brown’s side following a final debate in which he was widely seen as beating Coakley on Monday.
The Suffolk University survey showed that Brown backers include some disaffected Democrats. It also showed similarities between his supporters and the Republicans and independents who shaped recent GOP victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races last fall.
Former President Bill Clinton was making two appearances in Massachusetts despite his duties as a special envoy to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, another sign of the stakes. “You just have to decide if you want to pick the person who gets to shut America down,” Clinton told voters at one stop.
Kennedy, who died Aug. 25 of brain cancer, also was elected to the Senate in a special election on Nov. 6, 1962. He took office the next day, Nov. 7. It was the seat his brother, John F. Kennedy, vacated when he became president in 1961.
Sidoti reported from Washington. AP writer Julie Pace contributed to this report.