JEFFREY BROWN: And now to that surprising Senate race in Massachusetts.
The vote to fill the vacancy left by the death of Democratic icon Edward Kennedy comes tomorrow. And what was once assumed to be a certain victory by Democrat Martha Coakley is now anything but, as polls show support for Republican State Senator Scott Brown has surged in recent days.
Last-minute strategies were on display today, first in this new Coakley ad, with some star support.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Martha knows the struggles Massachusetts’ working families face because she’s lived those struggles. She’s fought for the people of Massachusetts every single day.
As attorney general, she took on Wall Street and recovered millions for Massachusetts taxpayers. She went after big insurance companies, took on predatory lenders. That’s what Martha Coakley is about. Every vote matters. Every voice matters. We need you on Tuesday!
JEFFREY BROWN: And this Web video from the Brown campaign highlighted some of his appeal.
WOMAN: I am enthusiastically supporting Scott Brown because this is all about America, our freedom, our security, our money. God bless America. Go, Scott Brown.
SCOTT BROWN: Massachusetts wants real reform, and not the trillion-dollar Obama health care that is being forced on American people. As the 41st senator, I will make sure that we do it better.
JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now from Boston is Fred Thys, political reporter for public radio station WBUR.
Well, Fred, outside the state, Massachusetts, of course, has a reputation as a strongly liberal and Democratic place. How much of a surprise is this there?
FRED THYS, WBUR: It’s a huge shock here. A month ago, no one would have predicted that Scott Brown would be so close to perhaps winning this election tomorrow.
JEFFREY BROWN: Where is the flurry of support for Scott Brown coming from? Tell us a little bit more about his supporters and what issues are really hitting them.
FRED THYS: I spent some time, I have been spending a lot of time going around with both candidates.
And what I notice at the Scott Brown rallies is that there are different kinds of supporters. There are people who are just curious. There are people who have been turned off by the negative advertising they see as coming from the Democratic side, basically questioning Scott Brown’s record on a number of issues.
And then there are the die-hard Republicans. There are the tea partiers. And I think there are also people who just feel like they’re just frustrated, and they want to have a voice. I was in — at a rally in a town called Middleboro on Saturday night, a small rally that grew into a rather large one.
And one man gave me a whole bunch of reasons for supporting Scott Brown. But, in the end, he said, but you know what? I’m really just here because I matter, and I want Washington to know that I matter.
That said, the issues that most people seem to bring up at the Brown rallies are health care. And they feel that the health care legislation has moved too quickly through Congress. And they also talked about how they feel that there’s been too much spending going on in Washington. They’re concerned about the deficits.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, what about Attorney General Martha Coakley now finding herself in this position she no doubt didn’t expect to be in? Who is — is she appealing to any of these independents or really now focusing on her Democratic base?
FRED THYS: She is not trying to appeal to independents. She is very much focusing on that Democratic base, trying to energize it, and making sure that they go out to vote tomorrow.
The Democrats do have a 3-to-1 advantage over Republicans in Massachusetts. But between the two parties, registered — voters registered for either party are still slightly less than half of all the registered voters. Most voters are independent voters.
JEFFREY BROWN: I gather that she’s also been hurt by some recent gaffes, including one that may confuse outsiders to the state. But Curt Schilling, the former Red Sox hero, tell us about that.
FRED THYS: Well, on Friday night, Martha Coakley was on a talk show on WBZ here. It’s the all-news commercial radio station.
And she was asked if the fact that President Obama was going to come to visit Massachusetts to support her was a sign that the election was tight. She replied that the fact that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had come in to the state to campaign for Scott Brown was a sign that the election is tight.
And then she said, but, then again, Giuliani is a Yankees fan, to which the host said, yes, but Scott Brown has Curt Schilling, Red Sox star pitcher Curt Schilling, key to the 2004 victory of the Red Sox in the World Series, and — former — former Red Sox pitcher — and Martha Coakley said, yes, but he’s a Yankees fan, too.
Her campaign says, this was a joke, so we don’t really know. But…
JEFFREY BROWN: But, being from there — but, being from there, I know that means a lot there.
FRED THYS: It does. And Curt Schilling is making robocalls to independent voters, saying, this shows that Martha Coakley is out of touch with Massachusetts.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, it’s also interesting. It seems that both sides are appealing to that Kennedy mantle, but in different ways, the Democrat talking about health care with Teddy Kennedy, and the Republican talking about JFK.
FRED THYS: Yes.
Scott Brown started out with an ad this year, his first TV ad of the general election campaign, actually, in which you see John Kennedy talking about a tax cut that he offered to get the economy going out of a recession. And he morphs into Scott Brown talking about his proposal for a tax cut. And Democrats here took umbrage at that.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, you would normally expect a low turnout in a mid-season election, especially a cold winter January day. Is this now all about get out the votes for both sides?
FRED THYS: Very much so.
It appears that the Democrats are energized by the closeness of the race. That’s the sense that I was getting as I was going to Coakley events this weekend. Largely, these were volunteers who wanted to be — who wanted to get a pep talk from Coakley, so that they could then go out and get the people they knew to go out and vote.
And they’re all telling me that they’re energized. The question is whether all those people who show up at the Scott Brown rallies — and there are a lot of people — will turn out tomorrow, and whether the independent voters are energized enough to show up and vote, it appears, for Scott Brown.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Fred Thys of WBUR-Boston, thanks very much.
FRED THYS: Glad to do it.