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Could a Republican replace Ted Kennedy?

January 5, 2010 |  9:56 am

Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley with Sen. John Kerry Dec. 8, 2009 when she won the Democratic primary With the special election in Massachusetts two weeks away, a new Rasmussen poll is causing earthquake rumbles in political circles.

Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley, the Democrat darling vying to pick up the gauntlet of the late liberal lion Ted Kennedy,  is -- as expected -- leading over Republican state Sen. Scott Brown.

But the news from a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters is that Brown has closed to within nine points of Coakley, a single-digit distance unthinkable just a few weeks ago. Even more telling, as commentator Jules Crittenden noted, both candidates get better than 70% of the vote from members of their respective parties, but Brown leads 65% to 21% among voters not affiliated with either of the major parties.

Coakley took a six-day vacation over the holiday, leading some Democrats to worry that she is acting too much like she has the election in hand. Jubilant when she won the Democratic primary Dec. 8, she raised hands with the state's now senior Sen. John Kerry. Now, she's ducking calls for a one-on-one debate with Brown.

As for Brown, he's using Democratic icons like President John F. Kennedy -- Ted Kennedy's brother and a hero in Massachusetts -- to pitch a message of lower taxes.

Of course there are a lot more registered Democrats in Massachusetts than Republicans. Still, the new numbers are rumbling through both parties and will likely inspire lots more time, attention and money on the get-out-the-vote efforts of both campaigns, critical in low-vote special elections.

The race could be a bellwether for this year's midterm election. And it could impact President Obama's hopes for healthcare reform. Among Senate vote-counters, Brown is seen by both parties as the 41st vote against reform.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Reuters

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