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Health bill at issue in Mass. special

With the Massachusetts Senate special election less than two weeks away, Scott Brown is framing himself as the GOP’s last hope to stop Democratic health care legislation, an approach that could provide both parties with an early glimpse at the political resonance of the issue.

As the underdog GOP nominee in one of the most Democratic states in the nation, the state senator’s message has been simple: If he upsets Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley in the Jan. 19 election to fill the seat once held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, he will provide the critical vote to halt the Democrats’ health care bill once the final version is negotiated.

“If you feel that Washington and the health care bill that they’re proposing is systemic of the problems in Washington and the failure to understand average people anymore, then you vote for me because as the 41st senator I can stop a lot of this stuff in its tracks,” Brown told POLITICO. “I can actually force them to go back to the drawing board.”

In 2006, under then-Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, Massachusetts passed its own version of statewide health care requiring all residents to purchase an insurance plan or face penalties. It was a plan that Brown, a state senator, voted for but he now says those rising costs should lead to a re-evaluation of some options and that health care should be done on a state level.

At a news conference last week in Boston, Brown announced he would introduce a bill on Beacon Hill designed to control costs in the state’s health care system by reviewing mandated insurance coverages. He pointed to chiropractic services, in vitro fertilization and alcoholism treatment programs as examples of required coverage that many consumers don’t need but are paid for by their monthly premium.

Brown’s bill calls for allowing people to purchase insurance coverage that better suits their personal medical needs.

Coakley immediately blasted Brown’s effort, saying it would reduce needed coverage for women and seniors while only minimally driving costs down.

“We don’t think Massachusetts voters are going to agree with that direction that he’s proposed,” said Coakley spokesman Corey Welford. “One of the important ways to reduce costs that is to tackle this on a national level, and that’s what the Senate bill would do. Scott Brown’s solution would do nothing about it on a national level except reduce coverage.”

Massachusetts Republicans say that health care is exactly the message Brown should be pounding on in the special election homestretch.

“If Scott can get that message to people and make the point that he’ll vote against it and Martha will vote for it, that he’s going to be the deciding vote on whether it passes or not, I think it’s a very strong message for Scott,” said veteran Massachusetts Republican consultant Charley Manning. “Everybody understands that the health care bill that was passed here has cost much more than anyone every anticipated and that it’s causing huge problems in our state budget, which has a massive deficit.”

Brown’s health care message has already been the subject of a fundraising appeal from Romney, and his campaign is attracting the notice of the conservative blogosphere, where prominent voices have demanded more national party support for Brown’s candidacy while also pushing online donations to his campaign.

But Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh says that Brown’s focus on health care is a flawed strategy because voters have already been through the health care wars in Massachusetts, and that now they’re more interested in jobs and economic issues.

“Massachusetts voters aren’t going to send a Republican to take Ted Kennedy’s seat to vote against the one thing Ted Kennedy worked for his whole life,” said Marsh.

It will take money to spread Brown's message and the attorney general still has a fundraising advantage over the state senator, who just launched his first television ad last week. Some state Republicans contend that the national party is failing to provide sufficient resources to Brown — even as he’s pushing an issue that is likely to be a key GOP talking point in the 2010 midterms.

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