Battle for Massachusetts Senate seat heats up 

Massachusetts has become an unlikely setting for a potential Republican comeback as GOP Senate candidate Scott Brown closes in on Democrat Martha Coakley in what could become one of the biggest surprises in Massachusetts political history.

Most polls show Brown in a dead heat with Coakley, or at least within a few points, and Brown has been raising astonishing sums of money, pulling in $1.3 million in online donations so far this week.

"It's a fight, a brawl," Boston-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said. "I haven't seen anything like this since Kennedy and Romney in 1994."

Sixteen years ago, the same Senate seat up for grabs next Tuesday was also on the verge of falling into the hands of the GOP. But incumbent Democrat Ted Kennedy managed to restore a then-tarnished image and pull out a victory over newcomer Republican Mitt Romney, who later went on to become governor.

This time, Marsh and other political strategists aren't so sure Democrats will hold on to the seat, which has not been in the hands of a Republican for 57 years.

The most recent poll, conducted by Rasmussen Reports, shows Coakley, who is the state's attorney general, leading state Sen. Brown by just two points. It's an astonishing turnabout for both Coakley and the party. She led Brown, a state senator representing Norfolk, by 31 points two months ago in a Suffolk poll.

Massachusetts voters have not sent a Republican to Congress since 1995 and Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a two to one margin. But Coakley has made a series of missteps, including misspelling the state in a campaign ad that trashes Brown.

Her less-than-stellar poll numbers are also part of the collateral damage caused by the unpopularity of the Democratic agenda in Congress, particularly the plan to reform the nation's health care with a $1 trillion proposal that increases taxes and cuts Medicare.

President Obama has no immediate plans to campaign for Coakley in Massachusetts, indicating that the campaign may view him as a mixed political blessing. Coakley may have tarnished her image this week by choosing to abandon the campaign trail to attend a D.C. fundraisier with lobbyists at the Sonoma wine bar on Capitol Hill.

Democrats in Washington are worried about Coakley, sending out missives to supporters looking for money and volunteers to help prevent an upset. "Polls show Ted Kennedy's legacy hanging in the balance," read one anxious plea from Senate Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, asking for supporters to contribute another $175,000 to the race.

Next Tuesday's election may come down to whether Coakley can excite her base enough to turn out and vote for her and whether Brown can do the same with both Republicans and the state's unenrolled registered voters, who do not affiliate themselves with either party and lean heavily in favor of Brown.

Marsh said she would not rule out a victory for Brown, "But if its a close race and its it's even then it becomes a ground game and Democrats have been traditionally better at that."

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