Obama: More than a Senate seat at stake in Massachusetts

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 17, 2010 

BOSTON — President Barack Obama put it right on the line Sunday for the people of Massachusetts - the entire Democratic agenda ranging from expanded health care to fighting big banks may rest on whether they vote Tuesday to send a Democrat to fill out the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's unexpired term.

"On Tuesday, you have the unique and special responsibility to fill the Senate seat you sent Ted Kennedy to fill for nearly 47 years," he said in a rally for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate in the special election and the state's attorney general.

Obama noted Kennedy's lifelong support for legislation aimed at helping working people, and said Coakley would help keep that agenda alive. By contrast, he noted, the Republican candidate, state Sen. Scott Brown, would shift the balance of power in the Senate against the Democrats and their agenda.

"We know that on many of the major questions of the day, a lot of these measures are going to rest on one vote in the United States Senate," Obama said.

Obama made the eleventh-hour trip to Boston at Coakley's request; she's looking for help as she finds herself locked in a surprisingly tight race with Brown.

The president's stake in the outcome is huge, particularly for getting an overhaul of the nation's health insurance. The Democrats must keep the seat to maintain the 60 votes they need in the Senate to pass the health care proposal over Republican objections.

Brown opposes the proposal. His victory would either kill it or force the Democrats to try to ram the legislation through before Brown could be certified as the winner - a move that likely would draw howls of protests.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted Sunday that there are no contingency plans to pass health care should Coakley lose and the Democrats drop to 59 votes in the Senate.

"We're focused on two things," he said. "Ironing out the differences in the bill, which the president has spent a lot of time working on over the past few days, and we think Martha Coakley's going to win this race."

Republicans see it differently.

"This is, in effect, a referendum on the national health care bill," Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday. "It is perfectly clear if it's unpopular in Massachusetts, it's unpopular everywhere. The American people don't want us to pass this bill."

It was a risky trip for Obama. He put his prestige on the line in a race that his party could lose, which might drive other Democrats to pull away from him as congressional mid-term elections approach in November.

While Obama has lost support across the country, aides insisted he still has political capital in liberal Massachusetts.

David Axelrod, Obama's chief political adviser who accompanied him to Boston, told reporters at the White House on Friday that polls showed 65 percent of Massachusetts voters liked the president personally and more than 60 percent approve of the way he's doing his job.

Coakley, who'd watched her once-large lead disappear as Brown tapped into anger among voters, paid heed to that anxiety Sunday, but tried to redirect it.

"People are angry at the policies of the past that frankly rewarded the wealthy and left Main Street behind...that is wrong and we have to fix that," she said.

"People deserve to be angry but we can't let that anger get in the way of remembering where it came from and where this recession came from."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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