His agenda potentially imperiled by the outcome of a close U.S. Senate race, President Barack Obama focused his attention and prestige Sunday on Massachusetts Democrat Martha Coakley, whose bid to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has gone from shoo-in to nail-biter.
Obama planned to join Coakley at a Sunday afternoon rally at Northeastern University in Boston as the race entered the final stretch.
It was the latest and highest profile assist for Coakley, the state attorney general facing a strong challenge from Scott Brown, a Republican state senator.
Coakley campaigned Saturday with Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, who has also appeared in a television ad for Coakley. On Friday, thousands attended a rally for Coakley headlined by former President Bill Clinton and the state’s senior senator, John Kerry.
Even in Massachusetts, a solidly Democratic state represented by the proudly liberal Kennedy for nearly 47 years, Brown has ridden a wave of populist anger over Obama’s health care overhaul, taxes and government spending. Only a blip in the polls until recently, Brown has captivated Republicans and many independents by his promise to slow the Obama agenda in Washington.
Polls show the race too close to call for Tuesday’s special election.
Campaigning Saturday, Coakley called Obama’s visit “pretty cool” but said it didn’t indicate her candidacy was in trouble.
“I don’t think he has to come, I think he wanted to come. He was excited to come,” Coakley told reporters. “Who wouldn’t want the president of the United States campaigning for her in a historic race?”
Since taking office a year ago, Obama’s track record for helping other Democrats hasn’t been stellar. He campaigned hard for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and in Virginia for Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee to replace Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine. Both Corzine and Kaine lost.
The president was also rebuffed after making a high profile pitch for his home city of Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics. After traveling to Copenhagen last fall to personally make the city’s case, the International Olympic Committee rejected Chicago’s bid on the first ballot.
Nonetheless, the joint appearance by Obama and Coakley is in many ways marriage of a necessity.
Coakley is depending on his star power to boost Democratic turnout, particularly among blue collar and minority voters who might not be motivated to vote. And Obama, whose political muscle has weakened amid the still struggling economy and his push for a controversial health care package, will see much of his legislative agenda threatened if Coakley loses.
If elected, Coakley could be the 60th vote to end GOP filibusters. Brown tells voters he looks forward to becoming “the 41st vote” to block the president’s initiatives.
Campaigning Saturday, Brown appeared unconcerned about Obama’s visit.
“I hope he has a safe trip and enjoys himself and has a good trip looking around a great state,” Brown said.
During Obama’s appearance, Brown planned to campaign in Worcester, a blue-collar city in central Massachusetts.
Associated Press Writer Glen Johnson contributed to this report.