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Health bill at issue in Mass. special

“Even though Scott Brown is the underdog, there’s no doubt about that, this would be a way to say, ‘Yes, even the people of Massachusetts are so upset with the shenanigans the Democrats have pulled over the health care bill that they can allow them to elect Scott Brown,’” former state GOP Chairman Peter Torkildsen said.

Torkildsen, a former member of Congress, questioned how serious the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee were taking the race.

“He needs help to get that message out. I hope they get out there quickly and don’t wait to the last minute,” he said.

An NRSC spokesperson said in a statement they don’t discuss funding or strategic help given to candidates, but sought to underscore Brown’s 41st vote message.

“As it appears increasingly likely the Democrats’ health care legislation will be unfinished by the time of January’s special election, however, we are confident that Scott Brown's message of restoring checks and balances to Washington as the 41st Republican senator matches up nicely against Martha Coakley's plan to rubber-stamp the current bill,” said NRSC spokesman Colin Reed.

Brown chose not to complain about the national party’s role in the contest. “On the one hand, I’m happy with everything we’ve been given,” he said. “On the other hand, I don’t want to be beholden to anybody. I’ve always been an independent person and thinker and voter.”

The national party has reason to be tightfisted: Even with attention turned to health care, Brown faces significant challenges in getting out the vote in a strongly Democratic state. Special elections historically have low turnout, and the Jan. 19 election falls just after the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend and takes place in a winter month of unpredictable weather.

David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center, questioned whether the numbers can add up in Brown’s favor given a volatile electorate and short campaign cycle.

“My sense is that you’re not going to have a big influx of independents,” said Paleologos, who noted that independents make up 51 percent of registered voters in the state, with Democrats accounting for 37 percent and 12 percent identifying as Republicans.

A Suffolk University poll conducted in November showed Brown facing a 31 percentage point deficit to Coakley, but a Rasmussen Reports poll released Tuesday showed Brown down only nine points, with Coakley at 50 percent to his 41 percent.

The same Rasmussen poll also showed the state somewhat divided on the question of the health care bill, with 53 percent favoring the Democratic plan before Congress, while 45 percent oppose it.

Paleologos said that while the health care issue could boost Brown, other issues such as jobs and the economy will continue to resonate with voters.

“It will have a measured impact, but I don’t know if it will be enough to flip the state from Democratic senator to Republican senator,” he said.

The presence of a third party candidate, Joe Kennedy, is more sand in Brown’s gears. A libertarian running as an independent, Kennedy is an information technology specialist who’s never run for public office before. Like Brown, he opposes the national health care bill, but he sides with Coakley on some issues, such as opposing a troop surge in Afghanistan.

Although Kennedy benefits from a serendipitous surname, he has made clear that he is of no relation to the late senator’s family. Nevertheless he might pull some votes away from Brown, though opinion is mixed on which candidate he hurts more. Kennedy was not tested in the recent Rasmussen survey.

“In some respects, he’s more conservative than Scott, and in some respects, he’s more liberal than Martha. In the end, I think it hurts Scott more than Martha,” said Marsh. “There are libertarians in Massachusetts, and he’ll get some votes, not a ton. But I don’t think, in the end, that’s going to be the difference between who wins and loses this race.”

Republicans agree that he likely won’t affect the final outcome, though some believe his candidacy might hurt Coakley.

“I think he’s going to siphon off votes from Martha because his name is Joe Kennedy. He’s not going to be pulling Republican votes with a name like Kennedy,” said Massachusetts GOP Chair Jennifer Nassour. “Instead of electing the 60th boring Democrat, you can elect the firecracker 41st senator. That 41st Senate vote is very appealing to people.”

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