Will Massachusetts be Obama's third-time charm or third strike?
It didn't work last fall after five full-blown stops in New Jersey and more for the Democratic candidate in Virginia. But President Obama is giving it a third go anyway, this time in Massachusetts. (No, we're not counting the Olympics loss here.)
There, state Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley, who was expected to take over the empty U.S. Senate seat held by Democrats since 1952, is in a real run for her ample money.
Obama was there because, even more than last fall, his presidential political prestige (and on-going clout, a Chicago kind of word) is on the line in Tuesday's special election against a little-known Republican state Sen. Scott Brown, who's surging in the polls and drawing huge campaign crowds.
With Obama's approval below 50% in Massachusetts and only 36% approving of his healthcare bill, Brown has gained ground driving home its trillion-dollar costs. So much so that the Democratic National Committee and Obama's ongoing campaign organization have opened aggressive efforts to save the day, while other Democrats began criticizing Coakley for running a detached campaign.
Last fall it was just two governor's offices that the new president tried to keep but lost to the GOP heading into the census year when Democrats would be expected to suffer some midterm defeats in Congress anyway.
But the Senate seat, sometimes referred to by Bay State Democrats as "the Kennedy seat," as if that party and that family owned it -- which they have, come to think of it -- is Obama's 60th vote in Washington. The 60th vote is the one that blocks Republican filibusters against, oh, say, the White House's ambitious healthcare plans or anything else it wants to spend more money on.
Since Obama and his economy and his unemployment rate and his stimulus spending and his federal deficits are going to be blamed for any unexpected loss on Tuesday anyway, the president figured he might as well fly up there after an unusual church outing, miss the NFL playoff games, and give it the old rally shot. (See full text below.)
As he's actually been doing often these days, even in Washington. (See related story links below.)
"You will carry on the best, progressive, forward-looking values of this proud commonwealth," the president said Sunday night at a partially-unfilled hall at Northeastern University, his voice rising, "and send....
...a leader to Washington who is going to work tirelessly every single day to turn this economy around, to move this country forward, and to keep the American Dream alive in our time and for all time. (Applause.)"
Surprisingly for this late stage in a campaign, only about 36 hours before balloting opens, Obama spoke in some detail about Coakley's biography, as if he was just introducing her to Massachusetts voters.
With recent polls showing Obama's national popularity sliding southward, especially on the economy, despite VP Joe Biden's best talking, with national right track-wrong track poll numbers going up the wrong track again and with Democrats' enthusiasm waning in other polls, Obama's brief appearance was designed to fire loyalists up and get them out to vote Tuesday, despite more snow predictions before then.
More importantly, perhaps, for the president's 363-day-old Oval Office agenda, Tuesday's results and the ensuing exit polls will be closely watched by members of his own party, who currently own both houses of Congress. A Democratic loss in strongly Democratic Massachusetts, as it did in strongly Democratic New Jersey, will likely give significant pause to dozens of party members from moderate or conservative districts when it comes to upcoming votes on Obama's legislative spending wishlist.
The race is clearly too tight to call, especially being a special election, which normally draw smaller turnouts that favor the most dedicated side. Republicans, however, are already waving caution flags and seeking volunteer lawyers online over how long state officials might drag out a victorious Brown's election certification process.
When Democrat Al Franken won the long-disputed Senate election in Minnesota, he was seated within hours. But delaying the seating of Republican Brown, who's vowed to voted against healthcare, could give Senate Democrats enough time to rush through a rewritten bill with their existing 60 votes.
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Remarks by President Obama at Boston campaign rally, as provided by White House
THE PRESIDENT: Fired up! Fired up! (Applause.) First of all, I'm going to let Michelle know you all sang her "Happy Birthday." (Applause.) She'll be pleased to know. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. (Applause.)
Let me begin by thanking Liz Bonacci for the wonderful introduction. Where did Liz go? There she is. Give her a big round of applause. Nice job. (Applause.) I told Liz on the way out here, I said, “Oh, you're going to be great.” She says, "Yeah, I'm going to rock the house." (Laughter.) She did.
I want to thank Northeastern. (Applause.) President Aoun and his lovely wife, thank you so much for the hospitality. I want to thank Boston Mayor Tom Menino. (Applause.) Governor Deval Patrick. (Applause.) The great senior Senator from this -- (laughter) -- I know where we are. (Laughter.) Massachusetts. The great commonwealth of Massachusetts -- John Kerry. (Applause.) I want to thank Vicki Kennedy and the entire Kennedy family. They have been great friends for so long. (Applause.)
To all the outstanding members of Congress who are in the house today, thank you. And we are so thankful to Pastor Laguerre for reminding us once again of the incredible obligations that we have to help the people of Haiti in this time of extraordinary need. (Applause.)
So it's good to be back in Boston. (Applause.) I love this town. I spent three years here stuck in a library, trying to graduate. (Applause.) But I still had a little fun. I had a good time in Worcester, too. (Applause.) I came back here a few years ago and gave a little speech that turned out pretty well. (Applause.) Something about Boston folks have just always been good to me. (Applause.) Even though, I've got to say, that I was going to wear my White Sox jacket today.
THE PRESIDENT: Come on, now. You want a guy who's loyal to his home town team. But I love Boston.
And today I've come to talk about one thing. I've come to talk about Tuesday. On Tuesday, you have the unique and special responsibility to fill the Senate seat that you sent Ted Kennedy to fill for....
...nearly 47 years. And I am here to tell you that the person for that job is your attorney general, Martha Coakley. (Applause.)
Now, there’s been a lot said in this race about how it’s not the Kennedy’s seat -- it’s the people’s seat. And let me tell you, the first person who would agree with that was Ted Kennedy. (Applause.) See, the only thing he loved more than the people of this commonwealth was serving the people of this commonwealth. (Applause.) He waged a personal battle on behalf of every single one of you -- even if you don't know it -- for seniors who are living on fixed incomes, for families struggling to get health coverage for their children, for students who dream of a college education. (Applause.) He fought for the working men and women whether they were teachers in Pittsfield or longshoremen in New Bedford. Ted Kennedy was always on your side in so many of the battles that led this commonwealth and this nation forward.
Martha knows the struggles Massachusetts working families face because she’s lived those struggles. Their stories are her story. You heard her -- she was raised in North Adams, one of five kids. Her dad owned a small business. Her mother was a homemaker. She worked her way up. Nothing was handed to her. And she became a lawyer -- not to cash in, but to give hardworking people a fair shake. (Applause.) She became a lawyer to fight for families like the one she grew up in; families who are the backbone of this commonwealth and the backbone of this nation.
And that’s what she’s done. Look at her record. As a prosecutor, she took on cases most of us don’t even want to think about, putting murderers and child abusers away. As attorney general, she took on Wall Street and recovered millions for Massachusetts taxpayers -- (applause) -- took on predatory lenders that were taking advantage of Massachusetts families. She went after big insurance companies that misled people into buying coverage only to deny it when they got sick. She went after big polluters who put the health of your family at risk. Time and again, Martha has taken on those who game the system at expense of hardworking, middle-class families.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Let's go, Martha! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That’s the kind of leader the people of Massachusetts need now more than ever. (Applause.) You need somebody -- (audience interruption) --
AUDIENCE: Booo --
THE PRESIDENT: That's all right. That's all right. We're doing okay. (Applause.) We're okay. We're okay. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: Fired up! Fired up! Fired up!
THE PRESIDENT: We're doing fine. Now, listen. (Audience interruption continues.) Now, where were we? All right, let's go, everybody. Now, listen. That's all right. Hold up, everybody. Hold up.
Now more than ever, you don’t need just another politician who talks the talk. And you don't need just people yelling at each other. Right now what we need is somebody who's got a proven track record, a leader who has walked the walk; somebody who has fought for the people of Massachusetts every single day.
Because I don’t need to tell you we're in tough times right now. We’re still dealing with an economic crisis unlike any that we’ve seen since the Great Depression. It’s done a lot of damage to so many people. And even before that storm hit with its full fury, middle-class families were weathering tough economic times, throughout this past decade, working harder and harder just to keep up. So people are frustrated and they're angry, and they have every right to be. I understand. Because progress is slow, and no matter how much progress we make, it can’t come fast enough for the people who need help right now, today. (Applause.)
But here's the thing. You know how politics is. At times like this, there are always some who are eager to exploit that pain and anger to score a few political points. There are always folks who think that the best way to solve these problems are to demonize others. And, unfortunately, we're seeing some of that politics in Massachusetts today.
Now, I’ve heard about some of the ads that Martha’s opponent is running. He’s driving his truck around the commonwealth -- (laughter) -- and he says that he gets you, that he fights for you, that he’ll be an independent voice. And I don't know him, he may be a perfectly nice guy. I don't know his record, but I don't know whether he's been fighting for you up until now, but --
THE PRESIDENT: But here's what I do know. I do want somebody who's independent. I want a senator who's always going to put the interests of working folks all across Massachusetts first -- ahead of party, ahead of special interests. (Applause.) And here's what I know is that Martha has done so. She's got a track record of doing so. (Applause.) I know there are things on which she and I disagree. I respect her for that. She doesn’t just call herself independent; she has the character to be independent. (Applause.)
So I hear her opponent is calling himself an independent. Well, you've got to look under the hood -- (laughter) -- because what you learn makes you wonder. Now, as a legislator, he voted with the Republicans 96 percent of the time -- 96 percent of the time. It's hard to suggest that he's going to be significantly independent from the Republican agenda. When you listen closely to what he’s been saying, it’s very clear that he’s going to do exactly the same thing in Washington.
So, look, forget the ads. Everybody can run slick ads. Forget the truck. (Laughter.) Everybody can buy a truck. (Laughter.) Here’s the question you need to ask yourselves before you go to vote on Tuesday, Massachusetts. When the chips are down, when the tough votes come, on all the fights that matter to middle-class families across this commonwealth, who is going to be on your side?
THE PRESIDENT: That's what this race on Tuesday is all about. (Applause.)
Because it's easy to say you're independent and you're going to bring people together and all that stuff -- until you actually have to do it. And when the vote comes on energy, and there’s a choice between standing with big oil or fighting for the clean energy jobs of the future, whose side are you going to be on? (Applause.) Martha is going to be on your side.
When the vote comes on taxes, and there’s a choice between giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest few and corporations that ship American jobs overseas, or giving them to the middle class and businesses that create jobs here, who’s going to be on your side?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say, by the way, because you'll hear a lot of stuff about taxes. You always do, every election. Last year, I kept a campaign promise to cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans. (Applause.) Cut taxes. And these members of Congress right here voted to cut taxes here in the commonwealth not just for individuals, but also for small businesses. We cut taxes for middle-class families. That was part of the Recovery Act. (Applause.) Now, you better check under the hood -- because from everything I see, Martha’s opponent would have voted against those taxes -- he would have voted against those tax cuts. Would have voted against those tax cuts.
When it comes to taking on the worst practices of an insurance industry that routinely denies the American people the care they need, and leaves too many families one serious illness away from bankruptcy, who’s going to be on your side?
You know she will because she always has. When the vote comes on financial regulatory reform, and the choice is between standing with Wall Street or standing up for common-sense reforms that will protect consumers and protect our economy from future crises, who’s going to be on your side?
THE PRESIDENT: Now, we learned the answer to that one this week. Now, keep in mind, Democrats in Congress voted for tax cuts for middle-class families and businesses. Now, what we're proposing is to make sure that taxpayers get their money back from the rescue that we had engaged in at the beginning of this year, thanks to the bad regulatory policies of the previous administration. And so we asked Martha’s opponent what's he going to do. And he decided to park his truck on Wall Street. (Laughter.)
It was your tax dollars that saved Wall Street banks from their own recklessness, keeping them from collapsing and dragging our entire economy down with them. But today, those same banks are once again making billions in profits and on track to hand out more money in bonuses than ever before, while the American people are still in a world of hurt. Now, we’ve recovered most of your money already, but I don't think "most of your money" is good enough. We want all our money back. We’re going to collect every dime. (Applause.) That’s why I proposed a new fee on the largest financial firms -- to pay the American people back for saving their skin.
But instead of taking the side of working families in Massachusetts, Martha’s opponent is already walking in lockstep with Washington Republicans, opposing that fee, defending the same fat cats who are getting rewarded for their failure. Now, there’s a big difference here. It gives you a sense of who the respective candidates are going to be fighting for, despite the rhetoric, despite the television ads, despite the truck. (Laughter.) Martha is going to make sure you get your money back. (Applause.) She's got your back. Her opponent has got Wall Street’s back. (Applause.)
Let me be clear: Bankers don’t need another vote in the United States Senate. They've got plenty.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Where's mine?
THE PRESIDENT: Where's yours -- that's the question. (Applause.)
And it wouldn’t just be any vote. We know that on many of the major questions of our day, a lot of these votes are going to -- a lot of these measures are going to rest on one vote in the United States Senate. That’s why the opponents of change and progress have been pouring money and resources into the commonwealth, in hopes of promoting gridlock and failure. They want to keep things just as they are.
So I’d think long and hard about getting in that truck with Martha’s opponent. (Laughter.) It might not take you where you want to go. (Laughter.) And where we don’t want to go right now is backwards to the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place, when we just started to progress -- (applause.)
Now, Massachusetts, we have had one year to make up for eight. It hasn’t been quick. It hasn’t been easy. But we've begun to deliver on the change you voted for. I mean, think about it, what some of these members that I just talked about have done, what we've done just over the last several months. We've started to see the economy grow again. We've given tax cuts to small businesses. We're forcing the banks finally to start lending again on Main Street, and not just worried about profits. We've made sure that police officers and teachers and critical workers across this commonwealth haven't been laid off. But we've got so much more work to do. So many families are out there hurting.
I get 10 letters -- out of the 40,000 that I receive every single day, I select 10 out to read every night. And they're heartbreaking -- people talking about losing their jobs, losing their homes. Sometimes it's young children who are writing: Mr. President, can you help, my dad has lost his job. Mr. President, can you help, my brother is sick and we don't have health insurance.
We've got so much work left to do. And as much progress as we've made, I can’t do it alone. I need leaders like Martha by my side, so we can kick it into high gear, so we can finish what we’ve started. (Applause.)
You know, we always knew that change was going to be hard. And what we also understood -- I understood this the minute I was sworn into office -- was that there were going to be some who stood on the sidelines, who were protectors of the big banks, and protectors of the big insurance companies, protectors of the big drug companies, who would say, you know what, we can take advantage of this crisis -- because it's going to be so bad, even though we helped initiate these policies, there's going to be a sleight of hand here because we're going to let Democrats take responsibility. We're going to let them make the tough choices. We're going to let them rescue the economy. And then we can tap into that anger and that frustration.
It's the oldest play in the book. But everybody here knows that the choices that have to be made in order to get this economy moving -- to make sure that people are actually working in jobs that pay a living wage, that we have a green energy economy that is freeing ourselves from dependence on foreign oil, that young people can actually afford to go to college and can look forward to graduating to careers that are building this country -- that those things aren’t going to happen overnight and they're not going to be easy. But we sure aren’t going to get there if we look backwards and try to reinstitute the same failed policies that we've had over the past decade.
That's not going to work. We've been there, we've done that. What Martha's opponent is preaching we've already tried. And it didn’t work.
So understand what's at stake here, Massachusetts. It's whether we're going forward, or going backwards.
THE PRESIDENT: It's whether we're going to have a future where everybody gets a shot in this society, or just the privileged few. If you were fired up in the last election, I need you more fired up in this election. (Applause.) I need you out there working just as hard right now in those final days. (Applause.) I need you knocking on doors. I need you making phone calls. I need you talking to your friends and your neighbors and telling them what’s at stake on Tuesday -- that every vote matters, that every voice matters. (Applause.)
And if you do that, if you do that, if you are willing not only to cast your vote for Martha Coakley, but if you're willing to get out the vote for Martha Coakley -- (applause) -- then you won’t just win this election. You will carry on the best, progressive, forward-looking values of this proud commonwealth and send a leader to Washington who is going to work tirelessly every single day to turn this economy around, to move this country forward, and to keep the American Dream alive in our time and for all time. (Applause.) That's what Martha Coakley is about. And we need you. We need you on Tuesday. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you, Massachusetts. (Applause.) ###
Photos: Jim Young / Reuters; Associated Press (Brown and Coakley at their recent debate).