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Merrimack Valley

January 17, 2010

Coakley, Brown face off Tuesday for Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat

Senate race attracts national attention

Massachusetts is two days away from either stunning the country with one of the biggest upsets in political history or electing the presumed Democratic successor to the late Edward Kennedy's long-held seat in the U.S. Senate.

The sudden ascent of Republican state Sen. Scott Brown in the polls has thrust the Senate race into the national spotlight due to its potential impact on the national health care legislation pending in Congress and for what a Republican victory in such an overwhelmingly liberal state could portend for Congressional Democrats at the start of a midterm election year.

The latest Rasmussen Poll painted the race as a virtual dead heat, with the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Martha Coakley, leading Brown 49 to 47 percent. Independent Joe Kennedy, no relation to the late senator, polled at 3 percent, with 2 percent undecided. A Suffolk University survey released Thursday showed Brown 4 points ahead of Coakley, leading 50 percent to 46 percent, with Kennedy at 3 percent and only 1 percent undecided.

It was the first major poll to show Brown in the lead, and represents a stunning turnaround from just a week ago, when Coakley enjoyed a double-digit lead in some polls.

"It would be the biggest upset ever in Massachusetts if Brown wins," said Ronny Ford, a local political commentator, former talk radio personality and lifelong Democrat from Methuen. "I think (Coakley) took this guy for granted, and now she's got a big problem."

The suddenly tight race has energized local Republicans and has local clerks predicting a heavier-than-expected turnout in Tuesday's special election.

The Bay State has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972. Kennedy held his seat for almost 47 years until his death in August.

Local and national political pundits see the Massachusetts race and the Republican nominee's surge as an indication of what could be in store for Democrats later this year. It is also being viewed in the context of the ongoing debate over the Democratic Party's health care legislation and the liberal policies of President Barack Obama.

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