Today's special election to fill the remainder of the Ted Kennedy's Senate term has gotten more national attention -- and caps a campaign that has been more hotly contested -- than nearly anyone imagined even a few weeks ago. It will also have far greater national implications than nearly anyone expected. So it is worth examining what those implications will be depending on how Republican state Sen. Scott Brown does today in his fight against Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Scott Brown wins less than 40 percent of the vote: Then all the fanfare and national publicity the race has received will actually backfire on Republicans. Discontent with the Obama agenda will be seen as overblown; it will seem less dangerous to vote for Obamacare; Republicans will have given it their best shot under the most favorable political conditions they can get in a deep-blue state and yet still got the same share of the vote that would have gone to a sacrificial lamb candidate. This is an extremely unlikely scenario, but one that can't be dismissed entirely in a place like Massachusetts, especially with light snow and heavy Democratic get-out-the-vote operations forecast for tomorrow.
Scott Brown finishes in the low 40s: Both sides will try to spin this as a victory. Republicans will rightly argue that this is a strong performance for a Republican senatorial candidate in Massachusetts, well above the norm and in range with the showing against Ted Kennedy that set Mitt Romney up to run for governor. Democrats will contend that this is a worse showing than projected in many late polls and will claim that Barack Obama's last-minute appearance made the difference, proving that the president's popularity still endures.
Scott Brown finishes in the mid-to-high 40s but still loses: With polls showing Brown ahead and the Beltway conventional wisdom now favoring the Republican underdog, Democrats will be pleased with any win no matter how narrow. But such a performance will probably still be strong enough to put the fear of God into swing-state Democrats, complicate the prospects of a health care bill, and set up Brown as a rare Republican powerhouse in Massachusetts. There are less popular Democrats than Martha Coakley up for reelection soon -- think Gov. Deval Patrick.
Scott Brown wins, no matter what the margin: This result would be catastrophic for Democrats nationally, ending their filibuster-proof Senate majority and forcing all kinds of unpleasant choices on health care. It would also reinforce the notion that the Democrats are struggling politically and that Obama's popularity is fading. Democrats will try to pin all the blame on Martha Coakley for being a bad, Creigh Deeds-ish candidate, but for anyone who believes that is a barrier to elected office in Massachusetts I have two words: John Kerry.
Scott Brown ends up in a virtual tie with Coakley, forcing either a recount or prolonged count of absentee ballots: This means that the Brown-Coakley race effectively continues, but will take the form of a three-ring circus. It will be worse than Al Franken versus Norm Coleman, possibly comparable to the Florida 2000 recount debacle. Both this scenario and the previous one will initiate legal wrangling over whether interim Sen. Paul Kirk can continue to serve, providing an automatic 60th Senate vote for health care and other Democratic initiatives.
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