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Massachusetts Senate Race: Thinking the Unthinkable

It’s difficult for any handicapper, professional or amateur, to think the unthinkable. And Republican Scott Brown defeating Attorney General Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate special election to fill the remainder of the term of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) certainly would have been unthinkable even a month ago.

But it is unthinkable no more. The Coakley-Brown race was a tossup going into the weekend before the special election. That conclusion was based on the parties’ behavior and, more importantly, both public and private survey data.

While Democratic efforts to nationalize the Senate contest, by interjecting President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton into the race, and to make the contest into a tribute to the late Senator, by using his widow, Vicki, in an ad, may help Coakley pull out a win, the race has turned out to be a disaster for the national party.

Coakley has received plenty of criticism from Democrats who are familiar with her campaign, and she will get much of the blame from Democrats if she loses.

But this is Massachusetts — and the Kennedy seat — and the ability of a largely unknown, initially underfunded Republican to run as strongly as Brown has in a race against the state’s Democratic attorney general — with health care on the line — is stunning.

Coakley’s campaign is only one part of the equation. National forces clearly are at play here, helping Brown run on change and against Democratic control of Washington, D.C.

If Brown wins, and he may, it will be the biggest political upset of my adult life. Some have compared a possible Republican win to Democrat Harris Wofford’s 1991 Pennsylvania special election Senate victory over Republican Dick Thornburgh, who was U.S. attorney general. But to me, a Brown win would be much bigger.

Savvy veteran Republican political observers are as stunned as I am about what has happened — and what may happen — in the Bay State.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee played this one very close to the vest.

While some journalists and political strategists across the partisan and ideological spectrum (including those at the Club for Growth who reportedly were initially upset at the NRSC and RNC) criticized the GOP’s campaign arm last week for not putting money into the race, the reality is quite different.

In fact, the NRSC had, a full week earlier, transferred $500,000 to the Massachusetts Republican Party to support Brown’s candidacy. For obvious reasons, the committee opted to keep that move quiet.

And the NRSC also got the Republican National Committee to agree to send funds to the Massachusetts GOP.

A Brown victory — or even a narrow Coakley win in the mid-single digits — could have significant ramifications. First, it could well produce a flurry of Democratic retirements. If Democrats couldn’t hold Kennedy’s seat rather easily with the state attorney general, some Democratic Members will worry, how the heck can they win in November in competitive districts.

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