Massachusetts Race Basically a Tie.

Massachusetts Race Basically a Tie.

I’ve been writing about the health care reform legislation for months now. I almost don’t know what I’ll do when it either passes or fails- I’ll lose such a consistent piece of subject matter. It’s a hopeful piece of legislation in a time where the rest of the news seems to be about war and financial ruin and the failures of the world’s governments to agree on how to address climate change.

But for now, it continues to be the best piece of political theatre I have witnessed lately. And the senatorial race to fill the late Edward Kennedy’s (D-MA) seat is laced with both irony and extreme importance. Kennedy was a life-long proponent of health care reform. Now, his seat is open and there are 3 serious candidates: a Democrat, a Republican and a Libertarian. Up until this month or so, it was assumed that the Democrat would win- how could a senator from Massachusetts not be a Democrat? That kind of thing.

Martha Coakley is running for that seat as a Democrat. In December she had a 30 point lead in the polls. Now, while still leading in theory, she is scrambling to make sure she wins- and President Obama is there campaigning with her to hopefully make it so as well. The Republican candidate, Scott Brown, is proving a stiff opponent, though he has come from relative obscurity to challenge Coakley.

The race, in the very short term, is about the health care reform legislation. If Coakley wins, she will vote for it and hopefully it will continue being revised and end up on President Obama’s desk. If Brown wins, it is all for naught. He will vote against it and it will die out- unless senators can recruit another Republican to cross the aisle with them.

The truth about what is going on with Obama and the Massachusetts senatorial race boils down to the vote on the health care reform legislation. Obama, the Democrats, and their entire agenda needs this one vote. They have already shelled out “pork” to get votes from Louisiana and Nebraska to get the bill this far, and they are running on fumes. If it doesn’t make it through, the disaster will seep into the midterm elections and wreak far more catastrophic damage to the slight Democrat majorities, rendering Obama’s second half of a first term largely inconsequential. He will be reduced to giving great speeches that don’t have teeth.

"This is, in effect, a referendum on the national healthcare bill which the Democrats, in secret, are trying to work out now," said Mitch McConnell (R) on Fox News Sunday.

While this is certainly shading it as a detrimental thing, he’s right. Which is deep, deep irony as anytime in the last 46 years (!) that Edward Kennedy was a senator he would have been the most reliable vote for this kind of legislation, and now his seat is the one that is, in many ways, figuring out the fate of the bill.

In the hands of Massachusetts rests the future of the health care reform bill, the Democrat party, and, perhaps, the next two presidential terms. Wow.

Photo Credit: Dan Kennedy's Pix (via Flickr under CCL)