While Obama rode to the rescue of Scott Brown’s rival, the GOP upstart barnstormed Massachusetts. On the road with the “Don’t Tread on Me” types and the pickup-truck rebels. Plus, read Dana Goldstein on Coakley’s stunning gender gap.
With the biggest fight of his political life at hand, Republican Scott Brown came out punching a day before the election, assailing his Senate opponent, Democrat Martha Coakley, for running a dirty campaign. Brown began the morning chastising the Massachusetts attorney general, who has seen her once-giant lead disappear in the polls, for turning a Martin Luther King Day breakfast into a political opportunity.
“I thought it was inappropriate when she started asking for people’s votes when they’re trying to remember Martin Luther King Jr.,” Brown said. “I didn’t know this was a rally for Martha.”
“There’s negative campaigning, there’s malicious campaigning, and there’s illegal campaigning. She’s down to the bottom two,” Republican candidate Scott Brown said of opponent Martha Coakley.
Later he lashed out at an advertisement, paid for by the Massachusetts Democratic Party, which alleged that Brown wants to turn rape victims away from hospitals. Brown, a state senator, had previously sponsored legislation which would have allowed hospital workers to deny rape victims emergency contraception because of religious beliefs.
“There’s negative campaigning, there’s malicious campaigning, and there’s illegal campaigning. She’s down to the bottom two,” Brown said Monday.
• Dana Goldstein: Martha Coakley’s Stunning Gender Gap• Big Fat Story: The Nail-Biter in MassachusettsOn a driving tour of Route 495, the road that divides eastern and western Massachusetts, Brown maintained that the campaign was about differences between himself and Coakley, over health care, the military, and taxation. The rallies elicited glee from Massachusetts Republicans who said they’d waited a lifetime to feel like their votes counted. Yet the spirit was mixed with anger, as chants of “Shame on Martha” sounded through the air.
Brown’s effort to win for the Republicans the seat that belonged to Edward M. Kennedy and potentially ice President Barack Obama’s health-care plan has reaped national attention. A poll from the North Carolina Public Policy Polling on Sunday had Brown ahead five points, within the poll’s margin of error. A poll done by the American Research Group had Brown up 52 to 45. Suffolk University’s final survey of bellwether towns also tipped in Brown’s favor. Coakley was forced to launch a powerful counteroffensive, bringing both President Clinton and Obama into Boston for an eleventh-hour push. The airwaves have been blanketed with ads for both sides.
Throughout the campaign, Brown has blazed a difficult trail: fitting his candidacy within a national narrative of dissatisfaction with Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress while at the same time maintaining that his cause was a local one. The balancing act became particularly difficult when money and support started flowing in from out-of-state groups like Tea Party Express and American Future Funds.
“This race is not about outsiders,” Brown said as he stepped off his campaign bus into snow flurries Monday afternoon.
Leading the Brown campaign’s highway caravan throughout the day was a figure whose cowboy hat and tobacco pipe made him stand out among the down- and fleece-covered crowd. His name was Jim Wilson, a 68-year-old farm owner from Buckingham, Virginia, whose white pickup truck carried billboard-size campaign signs.
“I’ve never seen so many Yankees at one time,” Wilson said. “We are up here to liberate your commonwealth.”
By that he presumably meant Northerners, not the kind who play baseball in the Bronx. Those Yankees assumed a strangely outsize role in the campaign’s final week after Coakley tried to joke that former Red Sox pitcher and Brown supporter Curt Schilling was really a Yankee fan. On Monday, Brown mentioned Schilling’s name at each event—citing the incident as another sign of his opponent’s apparent distance from voters.
Tea Party flair thrived at the margins of the day’s crowds. Stephen F. Jackman, a truck driver from Bradford, Massachusetts, waved a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, which has become a popular theme of the anti-government protests. The flag’s snake symbol was first pioneered by another attendee at a Brown rally, Ben Franklin—or at least his impersonator, who showed up in full early American garb.
“I think the Tea Parties got Scott Brown out here today,” said Bill Allen, a 52-year-old landscaper from North Andover. Bags of Lipton hung from his jury-rigged sign.
The Brown campaign stops Monday continued to ring all the right bells. His appearance in Boston was outside a Bruins game; the hockey team’s opponent, fittingly enough, was the Senators. In North Andover, Brown greeted supporters belting “God Bless America” on a real Main Street.
“It was a Fourth of July parade on Jan. 18,” said Ron Kaufman, a veteran Republican strategist, who was traveling with the Brown camp.
In Littleton, Brown met supporters outside the town common. At each stop, he hopped in the back of a pickup truck with a megaphone in hand. The small-town New England settings made for a perfect backdrop for populist theater. The truck, by the last day of the campaign, had become Brown’s favorite prop.
“When the president comes in and makes fun of me, that’s OK. I’m a big boy,” Brown said, standing in the back of a green pickup that bore his state senator license plate. “But when he starts talking about my truck, that’s where I draw the line. This truck is taking me and my stuff to Washington.”
Wearing a leather barn jacket and a yellow and black tie, Brown was an affable campaigner, who elicited cheers each time he promised to shake everyone’s hand who turned out to see him. People treated him like an old friend (“Scott, I drive a truck, too. Good luck, buddy,” one man said) and like a bit of a rock star (“God, he’s so handsome,” one mother cooed to another).
“What sleep? You sleep when you’re dead,” Brown told campaign workers at his storefront campaign office in Littleton. By his final stop, though, a rally in Wrentham, where he began his political career, Brown seemed like he could use a break. He lost track of his stump speech and was momentarily tongue-tied. “I can’t even talk,” Brown said, and the crowd laughed along with him.
Brown warned his supporters about the need get out the vote Tuesday, but some were already looking past the special election.
“He’s going to be president someday,” said 59-year-old nurse Lois Delminnio. That is, if he upsets a Democrat and takes Teddy Kennedy’s Senate seat first.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.