A Republican victory in Massachusetts?

by Ken Feltman

Radnor has not polled Massachusetts. Two polling firms we work with have polled for the Tuesday special election that will decide former Senator Edward Kennedy’s replacement.

One firm polled 563 likely voters Thursday and Friday and found the Republican candidate, Scott Brown, leading by 47% to 43%, among decided voters. The other firm’s latest three-day tracking poll, through Friday, shows Brown with a lead for the first time, 46% to 45%. Recent published polls show Brown gaining or in the lead.

From discussions with Massachusetts political activists and media representatives, we have learned the following:

  • Democrat Martha Coakley presumed that winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to election and abandoned the campaign trail during the holidays, giving Brown a chance to draw unchallenged media coverage.
  • The Massachusetts Republican Party is not a meaningful factor in the election. The national GOP is pouring money into the campaign but the Tea Party is carrying the fight for Brown with volunteers on the ground across the state. Independent groups allied with business, libertarian and conservative groups are also active.
  • President Obama remains popular in the Bay State. His policies are not popular, especially his preoccupation with healthcare reform.
  • Independents make up just over half of Massachusetts’ voters. They have supported Democratic candidates in recent elections but seem to be breaking for Brown by margins approaching three to two.
  • Brown’s opposition to the current healthcare reform proposals in Congress is helping him. Over half of Massachusetts voters have reservations about reform.

Coakley has made several gaffs, including one that is alienating some Catholics who would normally support any Democratic nominee.

Brown has been successful in painting Coakley as “soft” on sexual predators, especially a man who brutally assaulted a little girl.

Saturday’s rumor mill was buzzing about union-sponsored phone banks that started up Thursday. Apparently, the unions believe that they have found Brown’s weakness: He posed nude for Cosmopolitan Magazine during college. The unions and Coakley campaign officials disclaim knowledge of the phone banks but Coakley staffers have told media outlets that the Cosmo photos are offsetting the damage Coakley has suffered from the soft-on-predators charge. The phone bank message is subtle and does not focus on Brown posing nude but on the fact that a woman candidate who had posed nude probably would have been eliminated early in her political career. Reportedly, women are reacting to the “sexism” of the different standards and are committing to Coakley.

This is a typical no-holds-barred Massachusetts election, with voter turnout the key. The unions will have to deliver because the Democratic Party needs reinforcements and the Tea Party is delivering for Brown, especially with volunteers and absentee ballots.

In almost any other state, this would be looking like an upset for Brown. He seems to have momentum and is pulling away. But because of the long tradition of Democratic domination in the Bay State, most observers are cautious. Still, Tuesday looks like a bad night for Coakley and a good night for Brown and the Tea Party.

About Radnor Reports

Ken Feltman is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists. He is retired chairman of Radnor Inc., an international political consulting and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. Known as a coalition builder, he has participated in election campaigns and legislative efforts in the United States and several other countries.
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