Scott Brown Democrats hold key to Massachusetts 

Throughout the Massachusetts Senate race, Democrats have tried to tie Republican candidate Scott Brown to Sarah Palin, to Rush Limbaugh, to any figure on the right who might be unpopular with the state's critically important independent voters. So far, they haven't had much luck.

But Brown, a state senator who until recently was not exactly a household name, faces questions about his political philosophy wherever he goes. "You've been called everything from a conservative to moderate to liberal Republican," a reporter asked him at a campaign appearance last week. "Would you like to set the record straight?"

"Yes, I would," Brown answered. "I'm a Scott Brown Republican, and I always have been."

It's a clever answer. And there's no doubt that Brown, who favors low taxes, less regulation, strong defense, and who is also pro-choice and pro-gun rights, fits the profile of his GOP colleagues in Massachusetts politics. He's a Scott Brown Republican, and also a Republican Republican.

But as the race comes to a close, there's a more pressing question in Massachusetts: What about the Scott Brown Democrats? Will they come to the polls this election day?

About 35 percent of Massachusetts voters are Democrats. A much larger part, about 50 percent, are independents -- called "unenrolled" in Massachusetts political jargon -- who mostly lean Democratic. And about 15 percent are Republicans. The polls show Brown is doing remarkably well with independents as well as with the kind of Democrats who years ago voted for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. After strongly supporting Democrats in the 2006 midterms and Barack Obama in 2008, they are now threatening to cross party lines again.

A new poll offers some clues to what is going on. The survey, by the organization Public Policy Polling, shows Brown leading state Attorney General Martha Coakley by 51 percent to 46 percent, a five-point gap that PPP notes is within the poll's margin of error.

Among independents, Brown has a two-to-one lead, 64 percent to 32 percent. And he has the support of 19 percent of Democrats, while Coakley has the support of just 4 percent of Republicans, who are a much smaller group to begin with.

PPP asked whether respondents had voted for Barack Obama or John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Of those who voted for McCain, 94 percent say they'll vote for Brown -- no surprise there. But of those who voted for Obama, a significantly smaller number, 76 percent, say they'll vote for Coakley. The rest say they'll vote for Brown.

That's a lot of people who voted for Obama who might become, at least for a day, Scott Brown Democrats.

On the campaign trail, you hear lots of anecdotes about Democrats who plan to support the GOP candidate this time. "In this neighborhood, they're all union Democrats, and a lot of them are voting for Brown," says Joey Buceta of his North End neighbors.

"I live in Walpole, and two years ago it was saturated with Obama signs," says lawyer and Brown supporter Dan Kelly. "Now, the only sign on my street, which is the main drag, is my Scott Brown sign, which I have a spotlight on at night." (By the way, in the last election, somebody stole Kelly's John McCain sign. This time, with passions lower, there's not much danger of that, and besides, says Kelly, "I stuck it in the snow and then I watered it so it would stay frozen.")

When you're a Republican running for statewide office in Massachusetts, you know it would be crazy to appeal only to Republicans. If you win all 15 percent of them, you can give a nice concession speech and start planning your next defeat. Brown knows that, and his campaign has been a model of trying to reach out to the disaffected of all parties. "This is a big tent campaign," he said recently. "I have people who are Democrats, unenrolled independents, Republicans, young, old, liberal, conservative, moderate involved in this campaign because people are looking past the letter behind my name."

By any standard, Coakley should win in a walk. But the polls tell us something extraordinary is happening, and Tuesday could be the day the Scott Brown Democrats have their say.

Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appears on www.ExaminerPolitics.com ExaminerPolitics.com.

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