Mass. Senate poll shows shift toward GOP candidate

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BOSTON (AP) — A poll just days before the special Senate race in Massachusetts shows a shift in favor of the Republican Party — a potential disaster for President Barack Obama and his Democratic political agenda.

The White House has shown increasing alarm about Democrat Martha Coakley’s chances over Republican Scott Brown, and presidential advisers were weighing whether to send Obama to the state before Tuesday’s special election.

Playing a role from a distance, the president taped an automated phone call asking Massachusetts to vote for Coakley, and promising “She’ll be your voice and my ally.” It was the same message he made in a Web video e-mailed to his supporters on Thursday.

The Suffolk University survey released late Thursday showed Brown, a Republican state senator, with 50 percent of the vote in the race to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in this overwhelmingly Democratic state.

Coakley had 46 percent. That was a statistical tie since it was within the poll’s 4.4 percentage point margin of error, but far different from a 15-point lead Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general, enjoyed in a Boston Globe survey released over the weekend.

The Suffolk poll also confirmed a fundamental shift in voter attitudes telegraphed in recent automated polls that Democrats had dismissed as unscientific and the product of GOP-leaning organizations.

And it signaled a possible death knell for the 60-vote supermajority the president has been relying upon to stop Republican filibusters in the Senate and pass not only his health care overhaul, but the rest of his legislative agenda heading into this fall’s mid-term elections.

Brown has pledged to vote against the health care bill, and his election would give Senate Republicans the 41st vote they need to sustain a filibuster.

But Secretary of State William F. Galvin, Massachusetts’ top election official, said certifying Tuesday’s results could take more than two weeks. That delay could give Senate Democrats time to push Obama’s signature legislation through Congress. Sen. Paul G. Kirk Jr., the interim replacement for the seat, says he will vote for the bill if given the chance.

Republicans are using the threatened delay as a rallying point to argue Democrats have been gaming the rules to pass the health care bill despite public opposition.

The third candidate in the race, independent Joseph L. Kennedy, had 3 percent in the Suffolk poll. The Libertarian businessman is unrelated to the senator, who died Aug. 25 of brain cancer.

“Although the results show a race within the statistical margin of error, Scott Brown has surged dramatically,” David Paleologos, director of Suffolk’s Political Research Center, said in a statement. “He is attracting independent support by a wide margin and even winning some Democrats who won’t vote the party line this time.”

Paleologos said Joseph Kennedy’s supporters could end up being pivotal in the election’s outcome.

“A late rotation away from Kennedy to one of the major candidates could have a significant impact,” he said.

The survey of 500 registered Massachusetts voters was conducted in a three-day span ending Wednesday, when Brown enjoyed a surge after being widely seen as beating Coakley in their final debate on Monday. The question surrounding it and a number of recent surveys was whether the group sampled accurately reflected the likely field of voters Tuesday.

The election comes the day after the three-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Snow is also forecast for Monday, and many locals often head south for warmer weather or north to go skiing during the shortened work week.

Brown supporters, meanwhile, are mimicking Republicans and independents who shaped recent GOP victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races. They are showing a high degree of enthusiasm for their candidate, a relative unknown who has never run statewide, while Democrats have shown little passion for Coakley although she cruised in the four-way Democratic primary with nearly 50 percent of the vote.

In Washington, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel placed calls to top Massachusetts Democrats to weigh the costs and benefits of a potential presidential visit.

Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani urged voters who rallied in Boston’s North End to elect Brown for his anti-terror credentials.

“His election, I believe will send a signal — and a very dramatic one — that we’re going in the wrong direction on terrorism,” said Giuliani, who opposes having the trial of Sept. 11 terror suspects in New York City.

Former President Bill Clinton was making two stops in Massachusetts Friday on behalf of Coakley later in the day.