Obama Stumps For Democrat In Mass. Senate Race

Tuesday's special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for more than 45 years wasn't supposed to be much of a race. Democrat Martha Coakley was expected to be miles ahead of her Republican opponent. Instead, it's a race so close and with so much at stake that President Obama is making a last-ditch appeal for Democrats to turn out for Coakley.

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One big political story these past days has been the surprising strength of a Republican aiming to take the Senate seat that the late Ted Kennedy held for decades. That special election is tomorrow, and in a sign of turbulent political times, Democrat Martha Coakley could lose what was seen as a very safe seat to Republican Scott Brown, which is why President Obama went to Massachusetts over the weekend, hoping to rescue Coakley and his own political agenda. NPR Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Loyal Democrats filled a gymnasium at Boston's Northeastern University Sunday, and President Obama delivered the full-court press.

President BARACK OBAMA: You have the unique and special responsibility to fill the Senate seat that you sent Ted Kennedy to fill for nearly 47 years.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: And I am here to tell you that the person for that job is your Attorney General Martha Coakley.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HORSLEY: Coakley would usually be a shoo-in in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one but independent voters outnumber both, and many of them are gravitating to Republican Scott Brown. The once little-known state senator drew a big crowd at his own rally yesterday, putting Democrats, including the president, on the defensive.

State Senator SCOTT BROWN (Republican, Massachusetts): The voters are doing their own thinking, and the machine politicians don't quite know how to react. They put in a distress call from Washington. He's right down the street in Boston.

HORSLEY: The race is drawing national attention, not only because of the narrow margin in Massachusetts, but the margin in the U.S. Senate. A win by Brown would give the Republicans 41 votes needed to sideline Obama's agenda, starting with health care. And Brown has promised to do just that.

Sen. BROWN: This bill would raise taxes. It would cut Medicare a half a trillion dollars. It would be unfair to our veterans. It would destroy jobs and run our nation deeper into debt.

HORSLEY: The administration would argue with most of that, but Mr. Obama didn't dwell on health care, mindful, perhaps, the public is still deeply divided on the issue. Instead, both he and Coakley stressed populist measures, like a proposed tax on Wall Street banks. Brown's against it. Coakley says it's a way to hold Wall Street accountable.

Attorney General MARTHA MARY COAKLEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): And I'll tell you one thing: just because youre driving around in Massachusetts in a truck doesn't mean youre headed in the right direction.

HORSLEY: Brown's GMC pick-up truck has been a symbol of his every-man appeal. But Mr. Obama tried to put the breaks on that image, knowing that Brown voted 96 percent of the time with his fellow Republicans in the State House.

Pres. OBAMA: And where we don't want to go right now is backwards to the same policies they got us into this mess in the first place when we just started to make progress cleaning it up.

HORSLEY: That Mr. Obama has to make this argument in Massachusetts shows how far his own star has fallen in the last year. His national approval rating hovers around 50 percent, and he's facing nearly as much disappointment on the left as on the right.

Pres. OBAMA: So people are frustrated, and they're angry. And they have every right to be, I understand, because progress is slow. And no matter how much progress we make, it can't come fast enough for the people who need help right now, today.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama appealed for patience, telling the party faithful he has just one year to undo the previous eight. I can't do it by myself, he said. He'll find out tomorrow whether he has a 60th senator to help. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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