A new poll in the Massachusetts Senate race shows a shift in favor of the Republican Party and a potential disaster for President Barack Obama and his Democratic political agenda in Tuesday’s special election.
The Suffolk University survey released late Thursday showed Scott 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.
Democrat Martha 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 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 Democratic 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.
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.
The White House has shown increasing alarm about the race, with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel placing calls to top Massachusetts Democrats to assess Coakley’s chances and weigh the costs and benefits of a potential Obama visit. Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat and close friend of Obama’s, told reporters he had talked to White House officials as recently as Thursday.
A Coakley loss was long viewed as unthinkable among local political analysts and observers. The state not only has a Democratic governor, but overwhelming Democratic majorities in its House and Senate, as well as an all-Democratic congressional delegation.
Kennedy, meanwhile, was a liberal Democratic icon who made the goal of a health care overhaul the capstone of his nearly 47-year career. Brown has long been best known in Massachusetts as a former model who once posed naked in Cosmopolitan magazine, as well as the father of an “American Idol” contestant.
The Suffolk poll hinted at some reasons for the shift in the political landscape.
It found that while 54 percent support the universal health care law that took effect in Massachusetts in 2006, 51 percent opposed Obama’s national overhaul modeled on the state’s plan.