Something fascinating is happening in Massachusetts: The U.S. Senate race to succeed the late Ted Kennedy has morphed into a referendum of the unpopular health care reform bill. That has caused a race that was supposed to be an easy win for Democrats into a competitive battle. Read
The Democratic nominee, Attorney General Martha Coakley, is still favored. But her dispassionate campaign against the longshot Republican candidate, State Sen. Scott Brown, who is running a strong campaign, has the national party worried. You see, if Coakley loses, the Democrats lose their 60th vote in the Senate for whatever version of ObamaCare is hashed out in the secret, non-C-Span-televised negotiations. Brown has made it clear that he will not support any health care bill hashed out by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Listen to Brown’s answer to liberal warhorse David Gergen, who moderated a debate last night between the two candidates. Watch
Most polls show Coakley ahead, but also show Brown’s supporters as more motivated than Coakley’s. The election is Jan. 19. I lived in Massachusetts, and it will be a Herculean achievement to knock off a Democrat insider like Coakley. But if Brown wins, or at least makes it close, it may signal a major shift in Congress after the elections this year. Obama’s approval numbers are under 50 percent, Read Generally, when a president’s poll numbers fall below 50 percent, his party suffers significant losses in Congress.
If there is an analogy to Brown’s potential success, it may be Harris Wofford’s upset Pennsylvania U.S. Senate win 1991 over the established Republican insider Dick Thornburgh. The former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Attorney General led Wofford, a university president, by as much as 40 points in the special election to replace Sen. John Heinz, who was killed in a plane crash. But Wofford, who had been appointed to the Senate, slowly gained traction on Thornburgh and won easily. It was a harbinger of then-President George HW Bush’s re-election loss to Bill Clinton a year later. Ironically, Wofford’s signature issue in the campaign was health care reform. In 1994, Wofford was defeated for re-election by Republican Rick Santorum.