Healthcare talks in race with Massachusetts special election

Democrats are rushing to finalize healthcare legislation as their hold on the 60th vote in the Senate appears to be slipping.
 
A deal on healthcare reform is “very close,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Friday. “I would certainly hope that within the next 24, 48, 72 hours, we have a general agreement between the Senate and the House.”
 

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Hoyer’s prediction comes as Democrats face increasingly difficult odds in holding the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat.
 
Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) has said she will vote for healthcare reform, while state Sen. Scott Brown (R) said he will vote against it.
 
This week, two of Washington’s biggest prognosticators, The Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report, changed their rating of the race to a "toss-up."
 
Democrats are pulling out all the stops in a race that was initially thought to be a coronation for Coakley.
 
Organizing for America issued an urgent fundraising plea to its list-serve this week. “OFA is putting together a massive voter turnout effort to make sure Obama voters get back to the polls this time around — but we need your help to pay for it,” Mitch Stewart, the group’s director, wrote in an e-mail.
 
Although the White House has yet to announce whether President Barack Obama will make a campaign appearance with Coakley, he did tape a robo-call for her on Friday. In it, Obama stresses the importance of next Tuesday's special election, saying: "But a lot of people don't even realize there is an election on Tuesday, to fill the unexpired term of Ted Kennedy. They don't realize why it's so important. So please, come out to vote for Martha Coakley."
 
Other Democratic names are hitting the campaign trail. Former President Bill Clinton is stumping for Coakley at a series of rallies Friday, and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is also set to make appearances.
 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to seat the new senator as soon as results are certified and Vice President Joe Biden is available to administer the oath of office, a Reid aide told State News Service.
 
That date looks to be Jan. 29, which would give local and state officials time to receive overseas ballots and military ballots and then finalize the results.
 
The Senate requires an official election certification before a senator can be sworn in.
 
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin said Wednesday that certifying the election results could take weeks.
 
Meanwhile, interim Sen. Paul Kirk (D) has said he would vote for the healthcare bill no matter who wins the special election.
 
The Jan. 29 swearing-in date could give both chambers time to vote on the legislation, which still needs a Congressional Budget Office score. Democrats said they hoped to have the bill to the CBO by Saturday. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the full text of the bill would be published online for 72 hours before a House vote.
 
A new poll by Suffolk University has Brown leading Coakley 50-46. The four-point lead is within the margin of error, but it’s also the first poll to show the GOP candidate leading.
 
“He is attracting independent support by a wide margin and even winning some Democrats who won’t vote the party line this time,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk Political Research Center. “Although the results show a race within the statistical margin of error, Scott Brown has surged dramatically.”
 
A Boston Globe poll released Jan. 10 showed Coakley had the support of half of likely voters, with 35 percent backing Brown and 5 percent supporting independent candidate Joseph Kennedy (no relation to the famous family). Nine percent of respondents said they were undecided.
 
The Suffolk poll has Brown getting 65 percent of independents, which is on par with other surveys that show him neck and neck with Coakley. He also holds more voters from his own party, 91 percent to Coakley's 78.
 
Republican sources are confident the Suffolk survey is an accurate snapshot of the race.

Harvard University Professor David King said the importance of local issues has favored Brown.
 
“I don’t think people are thinking about this as something with national implications,” King said. “Folks in casual conversation or on local TV are not focusing on healthcare. The [Christmas] bomber has brought national security back into the dialogue. Fiscal responsibility is a big part of the dialogue here, partly because of our state budget deficit. The healthcare debate is maybe third or fourth on the list of concerns, and I think that really mutes the argument that a vote for Scott Brown is a vote against healthcare.”
 
Earlier this week the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a TV ad stating that Brown “wants to be the deciding vote to kill Ted Kennedy’s legislation.”
 
But the Coakley campaign, in an ad out Friday, didn’t follow that line of attack. The 30-second ad features Vicki Kennedy talking about jobs and touting Coakley as someone “fighting for working families.” The senator’s widow also calls it “the people’s seat” — a line Brown has used repeatedly.
 
On Thursday, Obama sent a video appeal to Massachusetts voters, saying: “It’s clear now that the outcome of these and other fights will probably rest on one vote in the United States Senate. That’s why what happens Tuesday in Massachusetts is so important.”

 
Aaron Blake, Emily Goodin, Tony Romm and Michael O'Brien contributed to this article.