As Scott Brown rises against Martha Coakley in polls, chances increase that a senator from Massachusetts could derail Obama’s health plan

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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A Massachusetts senator could derail President Barack Obama’s health-care bill, a twist of irony given the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s long career of lobbying for reform on Capitol Hill.

Now that some polls show Republican candidate Scott Brown inching closer to Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in the race for Kennedy’s seat, that reality has sent both national parties scrambling before next week’s special election.

DNC National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan will travel to Boston to help Coakley for the last remaining days of the campaign. Over the weekend, the DNC’s Organizing for America also sent out emails soliciting volunteers nationwide for a digital phone bank to encourage Democrats to turnout for the election.

And national Republicans have been riled up since Democrat Sen. Paul Kirk, who was temporarily appointed to the seat, was quoted in the Boston Herald this weekend saying he will vote for the final version of the health-care bill even if Brown beats Coakley in the special election, but is not yet seated.

Republicans fear this means that the Democrat controlled Massachusetts state government will delay certification of the election if Brown wins long enough wins for Kirk to vote for the bill.  Brown has said that if he wins next Tuesday’s special Senate election in Massachusetts he will vote against the bill, eroding away Democrats’ 60 vote filibuster-proof total.

Both the House and Senate have passed separate versions of a health reform bill, and the two bodies have to compromise before the bill becomes law. President Barack Obama has said he wants to bill passed before his State of the Union address expected later this month or early in February.

Coakley’s campaign did not immediately respond to a reporter’s request for comment, though the Boston Globe reported her saying, “Whoever wins on Jan. 19 should go down to Washington as soon as possible.”

But former Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey told The Daily Caller that people should “look at the history” to see how laws regarding filling Massachusetts Senate seats have been filled.

“It’s been a political process to this point,” Healey said. “There’s no reason to believe if Scott was elected that politics would be left at the door.”

In 2004, when Healey was lieutenant governor, Democrats changed the law calling for a special election in the case of a vacancy — fearing that Republican Gov. Mitt Romney would appoint a Republican if Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry won the presidency. But last year, the legislature voted to change the law again so that Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick could appoint someone to fill Kennedy’s spot and vote on important Democrat bills  — such as health care — during the period before January’s special election.

An attempt to reach Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat, to ask about the election certifying process of the winning candidate was unsuccessful.

Healey said that if Brown wins, he should be certified immediately, as Rep. Nikki Tsongas was in 1997 after a special election.

“She was elected on a Tuesday, certified on a Wednesday and seated on a Thursday,” Healey said.

The issue has been raised over the last several days as polls show a close race. Yet, the poll numbers have greatly varied this weekend, as Public Policy Polling had Brown up by one point and the Boston Globe has Coakley up by 15 points.

“I think the biggest story that the people of Massachusetts are actually thinking about putting a Republican in a seat that has been held by a Kennedy for the last 50 years,” Healey said.

But one Democratic party official sent from Washington to the Coakley headquarters in Massachusetts said Democrats “certainly think that the campaign is very well positioned.”

Jon Ward contributed to this report.