President Barack Obama urged Massachusetts voters at a Boston rally today to cast their ballots for Democrat Martha Coakley, saying she would fight for working people while her opponent, Scott Brown, is marching in "lockstep" with Washington Republicans who want to return to the failed policies of the Bush-Cheney administration.
"Where we don't want to go now is backwards," Obama told supporters at a Northeastern University gymnasium. "We've got so much work left to do. ... I can't do it alone. I need leaders like Martha by my side so we can kick it into high gear, so we can finish what we've started."
Obama traveled to the city to lend a hand to Coakley, the state's attorney general, because she is facing an unexpectedly tough challenge from Brown, a previously little-known state senator, in a race that could be crucial to the president's success in pressing his agenda in Washington. The president's appearance will be a key test of his ability to reenergize his dispirited party, the Globe reported this morning.
The president's speech, which organizers said was attended by 1,500 people in the gym and viewed by 2,500 in a spillover room, was briefly interrupted by a shout of "Abortion! Abortion! Innocent Blood!" Two men and an 8-year-old boy were escorted out of the gym by police. One of the men could be seen holding a placard that read, "Jesus loves all babies."
Brown held a competing rally at about the same time at Mechanics Hall in Worcester that organizers said was attended by 2,200 people, with another 1,000 in two additional rooms.
The rally's speakers included a number of Massachusetts sports and entertainment celebrities, including former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling; Doug Flutie, the former Boston College and NFL quarterback; John Ratzenberger, the actor who portrayed "Cliff" on the TV show "Cheers," and Brown's daughter, Ayla, a BC basketball player and former American Idol contestant.
One sign said, "The president may be in Boston, but the real people of Mass. are here with Scott Brown in Worcester."
Some of the sports figures likened the feeling at the rally, which came just two days before the election, to that of a locker room before a team goes out to win a championship.
"This feels to me like a clubhouse on the morning of Game 7," said Schilling, a World Series hero for the Red Sox.
"I stand before you as the proud candidate of Democrats, Republicans, and independents across Massachusetts, north and south, east and west," Brown told the crowd. "I will serve no faction but Massachusetts. I will pursue no agenda but what is right. I will be nobody's senator but yours."
"Friends and fellow citizens, I'm Scott Brown, I'm from Wrentham, I drive a truck and I'm asking for your vote," said Brown, who has made much of the fact that he owns a pickup truck with 200,000 miles on it.
But Obama told people at the Boston rally, "You've got to look under the hood," saying that Brown had a record of voting with the Republicans 96 percent of the time and it would be "hard to suggest" he would be independent from the Republican agenda.
Coakley told the crowd that "people are angry at the policies of the past that frankly rewarded the wealthy and left Main Street behind" and that people "deserve someone who's going to tackle the tough problems and get us back on track."
"Scott Brown is on the side of Wall Street CEOs. I'm on the side of taxpayers. I'm on your side to make sure that we change this," she said.
A series of Massachusetts elected officials spoke to the crowd before Obama took the stage. Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Edward M. Kennedy, whose death opened up the seat the Brown and Coakley are vying for, also spoke.
"As Teddy would say, Jan. 19 is the date, Massachusetts is the state, and Martha Coakley is our candidate," Kennedy told the crowd.
Outside in the streets earlier today, an energetic crowd of thousands, most of them young people, stood in lines that stretched about a half-mile, hoping to get into the event.
Many held Coakley campaign signs. Some said they had been waiting for hours. Sarah Jane Vaughan, 31, of Arlington, said she was attending the event because she wanted to support Coakley. “It is nice right now that everyone is energized,” she said.
Dozens of Brown supporters were also there, holding signs for their candidate bearing messages such as, "Make Obama frown, Vote for Scott Brown" and "What makes Dems vote Red, Big Bad Brown!"
Coakley entered the special election, which is on Tuesday, with a huge advantage: Registered Democrats in Massachusetts outnumber Republicans three-to-one, and the GOP hasn’t won a US Senate seat here since 1972. But Brown has apparently tapped into a discontented electorate and appears to be making headway with the unpredictable independents who make up the majority of the voters.
If Brown were elected, it could have an immediate impact on the debate over health care reform in Washington. Brown has promised to be the 41st vote against the president's health care reform bill in Washington, while Coakley has promised to be the 60th vote for it. Political pundits are saying a victory by Brown could put Obama's entire agenda in Washington in jeopardy and foreshadow a seismic political shift in Washington toward the GOP.
Independent Joseph L. Kennedy, who is no relation to the famous Massachusetts political family, is also running.
Globe correspondents Taylor Adams and Michael Corcoran contributed to this report.
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