Brown’s surge

Who’d’ve thunk that Massachusetts voters this morning would be making their way to the polls for what may be the most important election of their lifetime?

Until just a few weeks ago, the election to fill Ted Kennedy’s unexpired term was considered little more than a formality. Democrats enjoy a three-to-one registration edge over Republicans in the Bay State, control literally everything, hadn’t lost a Senate election since 1972 and had nominated their sitting attorney general to run against an obscure GOP state senator with no name ID and less money.

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Scott Brown was an attractive enough fellow, but no one gave him a chance as he drove his pickup truck from bar to bar and house to house seeking support. Brown, however, knew something that eluded “the experts.” The frustration and anger that fueled the Tea Parties and town hall meetings across the country last summer hadn’t peaked and were as tangible in Massachusetts as anywhere. As he made his way across the state, the news was filled with reports of an unpopular healthcare bill being rammed through Congress by a party so arrogant that its leaders felt free to literally bribe recalcitrant senators in ways that would make Tammany Hall blush.

Brown knew that voters in his state could empathize with what was happening nationally because it had been going on in Massachusetts for as long as anyone could remember. The arrogance of one-party rule was a burden he and his neighbors have borne for decades, but it was becoming an increasingly intolerable burden to many independents as well as Republicans with no voice in decisions affecting them and their families.

Maybe the outrage sweeping the rest of the country gave them heart or maybe they have just had enough, but as Brown toured the state his message began to resonate. By returning the Senate seat to the people, Massachusetts voters could stand up for themselves and for the country as a whole.

Brown’s election would end one-party rule in Washington by depriving the Democrats in the Senate of their precious 60-vote majority and would send a message to party bosses in Boston that the people of the commonwealth can no longer be taken for granted.

By the time state and national Democrats knew what was happening, the ground under them had shifted. Brown was even or ahead and by last weekend enjoyed a 30-point advantage among independents. Massachusetts voters like the Republican candidate himself rejected the implication of those like David Gergen, the moderator of the debate between Brown and Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, that “Teddy Kennedy’s seat” should almost as a matter of right go to someone who would vote in the Senate as Kennedy had for so many years.

In that debate, Brown responded — in what has become a signature line since — that the Senate seat he is seeking is not “the Kennedy seat, but the people’s seat,” a line chanted by growing crowds greeting him.

Democrats have responded with vicious personal attack ads. By the weekend Democrats and organized labor were spending as much as they thought they’d need to turn things around, though a late poll showed Brown with a majority of union votes.

The outcome will depend on the intensity of the supporters of the two candidates. That’s why the president himself headed for Massachusetts on Sunday, where he gave a rousing speech before a fairly well-controlled crowd of some 1,500 students in a college gym.

At about the same time, however, Brown was rallying more than 2,000 voters in an overcrowded hall while his remarks were being piped into an overflow hall holding another thousand or so who had come  to hear Brown, Red Sox and Patriot players and even Norm from “Cheers.” So much for intensity.

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President Barack Obama and others warn that by electing Brown, Massachusetts voters could defeat his healthcare reforms. No kidding. Brown has campaigned saying the same thing and though Democrats find it almost impossible to believe, various Massachusetts polls show support for the scheme at less than 40 percent in the state.

Ms. Coakley may still win, though Brown had the late momentum in spite of Obama; her party controls the infrastructure and has an enormous registration edge, but even if she manages to snatch survival from the jaws of defeat, those Democrats following what’s happened up there over the last few weeks and thinking ahead to this fall should be afraid.

Very afraid.

Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental consulting firm.