Tuesday January 19, 2010

Showdown: Mass. Voters Take to Polls as Health Bill Hangs in the Balance

By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 19, 2010 ( – A broad undercurrent of discontent over the health care bill has turned national attention to the outcome of Massachusetts’ special Senate election today: a win by Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Scott Brown would provide a devastating indictment of the health bill – and more importantly, could spell the demise of the bill altogether.

Brown’s sudden and explosive rise in popularity may be the first substantial turn of events in the health bill saga that Washington Democrats are helpless to control: few expected the success of a moderate Republican in the deeply liberal Massachusetts, wooing voters with vows to shatter the Democrats’ invincible super-majority and vote against the health bill.

Yet the health care bill, consistently unpopular in national polls, due largely to its steep cost, abortion funding, and government expansion, is also rejected by the majority of voters polled in the blue state. Massachusetts voters oppose the bill 48%-40%, according to a recent Public Policy Polling poll.

While campaigning as moderately pro-choice, Brown has expressed stiff opposition to the Senate bill’s federal abortion funding, and many in the pro-life community have placed hope in Brown’s success as the greatest chance at taking down the vastly abortion-expanding bill.

The mean of recent polls continues to lean towards a Brown victory, with some showing a win by startling margins. An InsiderAdvantage poll conducted exclusively for POLITICO shows Brown holding a 9-point lead over Democrat Martha Coakley, 52%-43%, the final day before the vote.

Voter turnout is a known wild card in special elections, yet it is unclear how it will play Massachusetts’ deep-rooted Democrat identity against Brown’s energetic campaign and zealous supporters. “Conventional wisdom is, the high turnout favors the Democrat. But in a special election, high turnout is volatile because you don’t know who’s showing up,” Massachusetts Democrat Scott Ferson told Politico.

A Public Policy Poll released Sunday showed that 80% of Brown’s supporters say they’re “very excited” about voting, while only 60% of Coakley’s backers say the same.

Meanwhile, Democrat strategies on Capitol Hill have turned towards damage control.

Ed Henry, Senior White House Advisor on CNN, said that there was “real, genuine fear inside the White House” that Brown would win.

“I was told very reliably that a couple of the president’s top advisors have told senior Democrats that they think Coakley’s going to lose,” said Henry.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed fears of defeat while discussing the bill’s fate in San Francisco, but evidently considered it quite possible that Brown would disrupt Democrats’ grip on the Senate. “Let’s remove all doubt that we will have health care one way or another,” Pelosi told reporters in San Francisco.

Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York was less optimistic.

“I think you can make a pretty good argument that health care might be dead [if Brown wins],” said Weiner on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Few options are presenting themselves to Democrats seeking ways to rescue the bill in the worst-case scenario. Some sources now say that a previous plan to stall Brown’s installation has been abandoned as risking too much ire from Massachusetts voters.

This leaves the possibility that leaders will attempt to make the House swallow the Senate version of the bill whole, with no amendments – allowing the final bill to land on the president’s desk without another Senate vote. Because House Democrats have already pushed hard against the Senate bill as it stands, some insiders say that the best chance of success would be to try to pass House Democrats’ priorities later with a budget bill, which would require only 51 votes in the Senate.

In what may be another sign of Democrats’ weakened offensive posture, senior officials with the Obama administration finally announced the president’s plan to deliver his State of the Union address on January 27.

The administration had long hoped to have the bill rammed through in time for Obama to claim victory in the address, marking another in a series of missed deadlines for the health care overhaul.