Will Scott Brown Ride a Tea Party Tide?

“If Scott Brown wins the Senate race here in Massachusetts on Tuesday, to paraphrase the First Lady of the land, for the first time in my lifetime, I can say I  am really proud of my state.”

That from a crusty conservative from South Easton, Massachusetts in the last  days of the nationally-watched special election for the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.).  My friend was upbeat, but he would not predict outright a win by moderate-conservative State Sen. Brown.

No one is that confident, on either side of the race.  Democratic jitters about a Coakley defeat abound.  With one day to go before the voting, left-of-center special interest groups have poured more than $1 million into the state to help the embattled Democrat.  Ted Kennedy’s widow Vicki came out strongly for Coakley last week, Bill Clinton campaigned with her Friday, and Barack Obama reversed an earlier decision to stump for her in the state on Sunday.

There is an also an ugly side of the last days of the battle of the Bay State.  Brown’s well-known pose for a spread in Cosmopolitan Magazine 28 years ago has reportedly been the subject of calls to female voters from a Coakley phonebank, along with suggestions that a female candidate would be judged more harshly if the subject of a centerfold.

“Gutter politics,” is how the calls were described by Brown himself, who has never hidden from this part of his background and recalled that he posed for the spread to earn money while in law school.  

If Coakley wins, then Democrats from Obama himself on down can breathe a sigh of relief.  Democrats will still have maintained the sixty votes they have in the Senate to thwart filibusters against the health care “reform” package they have long fought for.  But if Brown wins, he will become, in his own words, “the 41st senator — I can stop it” — meaning he will doom the Obama health care package that has grown increasingly unpopular.  

A poll released on Saturday that was conducted by the respected American Research Group showed Brown leading Coakley by a margin of 48% to 45% among likely voters.  This came two days after a Suffolk University poll showed Brown ahead of the Democrat by 4 percentage points — and a day before Obama reversed himself and said he was coming to Massachusetts after all.

Health Care, Corruption and Coakley Fuel Brown Surge

“Tapping into voter discontent over the health care bill really helped Scott,” veteran Bay State GOP consultant Holly Robichaud told me last week, “But there’s another party of his surge the national press doesn’t get.  He has been helped by a growing voter anger at corruption in a one-party state.”

Robichaud explained that voter anger at what they consider Democratic corruption has been fueled by three recent speakers of the state House all indicted, a state senator sent to jail for drinking while under probation, and Democrat high-handedness over keeping Kennedy’s seat.  Five years after they removed the governor’s power to fill Senate vacancies while Republican Mitt Romney held the office, Democrats in ’09 restored the Senate appointment power to Democratic Gov. DeVal Patrick — just in time to fill the vacancy created by Kennedy’s death with former Democratic National Chairman Paul Kirk.  Most recently, Kirk has hinted that if Brown wins, he won’t resign promptly and will stay in the Senate to vote on health care.

“This kind of stuff has really gotten voters upset and voting for Scott Brown Tuesday is a way for them to show how mad they are with Democrats here,” said Robichaud, noting that most of the late polls show that 60% to 70% of “unenrolled” voters (the Massachusetts term for independents) are breaking for Brown.

Coakley has problems of her own.  After defeating three other Democrats for nomination in the December primary, the attorney general promptly took a vacation.  On Monday (January 11th), she finally agreed to a televised debate with Brown.  For weeks, she had avoided confrontation with him on the grounds that Libertarian candidate Joe Kennedy (no relation) was not included in the debate and she felt all candidates should participate (when she sought re-election as attorney general in ’06, even though her Republican opponent was a candidate, Coakley simply refused to debate him).  

The final ingredient in the dramatic saga of the Bay State Senate race is Scott Brown himself.  Last year, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sounded out three very wealthy Republicans about running and, presumably, deploying their own wealth in the race.  All refused.  The candidate who ended up with the Republican nomination is a middle-class lawyer and reserve Army officer who is also a master of retail politics.  Whether it’s a bar in Boston, a bowling alley in Springfield, or a Kiwanis Club in Worcester, Brown can be counted on to show up, work the entire, and make new friends.

One day alone last week, he received $1.3 million in donations.  Traditional moderate fixtures in the state such as former Gov. William Weld and Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman work side by side with longtime political enemies who are more conservative (such as Robichaud) for Brown’s victory.  

In the historically fractious Massachusetts GOP, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Whatever happens, it will be a close race on Tuesday.  In a state that last elected a Republican senator in 1972 and where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of 3-to-1, even a near-win by Brown will send shockwaves and a message to conservatives everywhere: that if a Republican can do that well in Massachusetts, then think of what Republicans can do elsewhere in 2010.