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What Will Happen in Massachusetts on Tuesday?

An Analysis By Scott Rasmussen

Monday, January 18, 2010

Two weeks ago, Rasmussen Reports released a poll showing that Republican challenger Scott Brown had closed the gap in Massachusetts to single digits. Prior to that release, “The overwhelming conventional wisdom in both parties… was that Martha Coakley was a lock,” writes The Politico’s Ben Smith, adding, “It's hard to recall a single poll changing the mood of a race quite that dramatically.”

A week later, the shock continued as our final poll in the race showed that Brown had pulled to within two points of Coakley. In fact, among those who were certain they would vote, Brown was up by two.

At that time, Brown was leading among political moderates, middle-income voters and those over 40. He enjoyed a dominant lead among unaffiliated voters and even picked up a modest number of Democrats. By every measure, Brown supporters were more engaged in the race and more excited about their candidate. Nothing that we have seen over the past week appears to have changed those dynamics.

The health care issue is front and center as the reason Brown has gained traction. While the plan enjoys more support in Massachusetts than it does nationwide, those with strong opinions on the subject are more likely to oppose the bill than support it. Perhaps the single most shocking thing about the Massachusetts race is the fact that a Republican is running against the president’s health care effort and winning in the Kennedys' home state.

Brown’s position on health care has been supplemented by his positions on national security issues, including the Christmas Day terrorist bomber. Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly want the man who tried to blow up a U.S. airliner tried in a military setting as a terrorist.

Over the past week, the battle in Massachusetts has been fully engaged by both parties. Brown raised over a million dollars in a single day last week and has reportedly continued to raise large amounts of money every day. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, labor unions and other Democratic organizations are pouring money into the race. A handful of polls came out over the weekend suggesting that Brown was in the lead, and news reports indicate that both campaigns' internal polls are showing the same thing.

Since the last Rasmussen Reports poll, the Coakley campaign has had to endure a number of missteps ranging from the candidate’s debate performance and comments about Afghanistan to her mistaken assertion that Boston Red Sox hero Curt Schilling was a Yankees' fan.

While those items may have hurt, the Coakley team got some good news as well. First, the heightened interest in the race may serve to increase turnout among Democrats who have been fairly apathetic about their candidate and the campaign. Second, President Obama himself showed up in Boston to rally the base on Sunday.

Where does that leave us? On Intrade, Brown begins Monday morning as the slight favorite in the race. However, nobody really knows who will win because it all comes down to turnout. Clearly, Brown has the more enthusiastic support and has run a better campaign. If turnout remains low, he is likely to win. That’s why the president went to Boston. If his appearance boosts turnout among Democrats, the Democrat will win.

That’s a long way around saying that we’re right back where we were a week ago - at the time of the last Rasmussen Reports poll. Brown is leading slightly among those certain to vote, and Coakley will do better if more Democrats show up.

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