The Jan. 19 special election for the late Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts is heating up at a time when President Obama and Democrat lawmakers in Congress are on the verge of passing legislation that would overhaul the country's health care system.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat is now battling for the seat against Republican state Senator Scott Brown. Both candidates say the outcome could change the balance of forces in the Senate. The Democrats need to win in order to maintain its filibuster-proof 60-seat majority to pass health care reform and much of the rest of Obama's agenda.
The seat is currently held by interim Sen. Paul Kirk, D-Mass.
In a debate last week, Brown said if elected as the 41st GOP senator he would uphold a GOP filibuster in opposing Obama's health care bill. Ironically in 2006, Brown voted in favor of a Massachusetts universal health care bill that many say has largely been the model for Obama's health care legislation.
Speaking at recent rally, Coakley referred to Brown's policies as a step backward to the disastrous Bush years. "Not only is Scott Brown a roadblock to progress, he wants to go back to the failed policies of the Bush-Cheney administration," she said.
"The choice is very simple," Coakley went on to say. "With your help and your vote on Jan. 19, we can make Sen. Kennedy's vision for affordable and quality health care for all Americans a reality."
Labor unions, including the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, have unanimously endorsed Coakley calling her a champion for the working men and women throughout the Commonwealth.
"This election has been all about working families and that's who the late Sen. Kennedy spent his life fighting for," said Robert Haynes, president of the state AFL-CIO in a recent statement.
"The Massachusetts AFL-CIO is proud to stand with Coakley because of her proven record of fighting for working families and because of her career of public service. Our attorney general has always stood for fairness, justice, and opportunity for working families. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO will work hard during this short campaign to add Martha's voice, values, and talents to the U.S. Senate," he said.
Coakley supporters point out she has a strong record in support of the state's workforce. As attorney general she enforced prevailing wage, overtime, employee misclassification and independent contractor enforcement laws, all helpful to working families.
Labor leaders highlight her fight against workplace discrimination, most recently supporting the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009.
Despite what Republicans are calling a close contest, Coakley supporters say she will ultimately prevail.
Although, some argue, don't dismiss Brown's chances. They say the recent Republican gubernatorial victories in the New Jersey and Virginia has mobilized the GOP.
Brown's supporters say a one-day, automated Rasmussen Reports poll shows that the race is closer than some may think. Yet the automated poll showed Coakley leading 50 percent to 41 percent. One poll from the Public Policy Polling showed Brown edging Coakley by a point, 48 percent to 47 percent.
A more substantive, four-day poll released last weekend by The Boston Globe showed Coakley leading 50 percent to 35 percent.
In a recent press conference Kennedy's widow, Vicki, has also announced her endorsement of Coakley. Ted Kennedy died Aug. 25 of brain cancer at age 77 after serving nearly a half of century in the Senate.
In recent years Massachusetts has been a stronghold for Democrats. Currently the state has a Democratic House and Senate, a Democratic governor and all six constitutional officers are also Democrats. Brown is one of 21 Republican lawmakers in the 200-member Legislature in the state.
Photo: On Thursday, December 17, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO endorsed Martha Coakley for U.S. Senate.