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All eyes on Bay State ballot

Brown, Coakley make final push before high-stakes election today

By Stephanie Ebbert and Donovan Slack and Jeannie Nuss
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / January 19, 2010

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From Pittsfield to Framingham, North Andover to Dorchester, the candidates for US Senate made a last dash across the state yesterday, issuing their final pitches to voters ahead of a special election today that has drawn the eyes of the nation.

Republican Scott Brown basked in the limelight that his breakout campaign has attracted, with fans in North Andover lining Main Street as if waiting for a parade. His supporters broke out into verses of “God Bless America.’’ Young and not-so-young women whooped with enthusiasm after he arrived.

“We’ve turned into groupies,’’ said Kerry McGrath-Stark, 49, a Newburyport resident who, with her husband, has been trailing the candidate for days.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, the onetime front-runner now trying to just keep the seat in Democratic hands, made the case for her candidacy at a union hall in Springfield, a school in Framingham, and the Eire Pub in Dorchester, where she ended the day over a Sam Adams with her husband.

“We’re feeling great,’’ she said. “I think we’re going to get out our vote tomorrow and I think we’re going to be successful.’’

To hear the candidates and their supporters tell it, the stakes could hardly be higher. Voters will decide not only who succeeds Edward M. Kennedy, who held the Senate seat for 47 years, but the outcome could make or break a proposed overhaul of the nation’s health care system that Democrats and President Obama are eager to get through Congress.

Brown, a state senator from Wrentham, has promised to be the crucial 41st vote blocking health care legislation in the Senate. Coakley supports the overhaul and stood with Obama in Boston this weekend at a rally for her campaign.

Massachusetts came to exemplify the nation’s political divide in recent weeks, as Brown caught fire with voters - including many independents - who are either disenchanted with Democratic leadership nationally or not sold on the Democratic nominee.

Activists from the Tea Party Movement flocked to the state. Obama rallied Coakley supporters by saying Massachusetts had the power to determine the nation’s course. And voters were besieged with TV ads, robocalls, fliers, and door-knockers urging them to vote for one candidate - or, often, simply against the other.

The tense race became downright ugly in its final days.

A Democratic operative working for Coakley recently shoved to the ground a reporter who was trying to ask Coakley a question. Yesterday, Democrats released footage of a Brown sign-holder repeatedly deriding Coakley supporters as “Nazis.’’ A woman drew State Police attention by writing “Hope she gets shot’’ on a Facebook post about Coakley’s appearance with Bill Clinton last week.

And at a recent campaign event in West Springfield, a Brown supporter shouted out a violent comment about Coakley and a curling iron, in an apparent reference to a sexual crime she investigated as a district attorney. (Brown’s campaign said he did not hear the comment; in the video provided by Democrats, Brown smiles and continues his speech.)

US Senator John Kerry called on Brown to tell his supporters to tone down the intimidation tactics.

“I’m no stranger to hard-fought campaigns, but what we’ve seen in the past few days is way over the line and reminiscent of the dangerous atmosphere of Sarah Palin’s 2008 campaign rallies,’’ Kerry said in a statement, referring to the Republican vice presidential nominee’s events. “This is not how democracy works in Massachusetts.’’

That brought a push-back from the Brown campaign, which slammed Kerry for “borrowing a page from the playbook of his failed presidential bid in a last-ditch effort to resuscitate Martha Coakley’s collapsing campaign.’’

“Martha Coakley has run the most malicious campaign Bay State voters have ever seen, and her last-minute reliance on John Kerry’s 2004 failed strategy is further evidence that she believes her only path to victory is by manufacturing nonexistent controversies,’’ Brown campaign manager Beth Lindstrom said in a statement.

Even the third candidate in the race, independent Joe Kennedy - a wild card who shares a name but no relation with the political dynasty - has felt the heat from supporters of both major-party candidates, who fear he will siphon off crucial votes.

“We’ve been asked, begged, pleaded with, and told that we had to be removed from the ballot by just about every other human being - and that’s across the nation,’’ said Kennedy, 38, a Dedham Libertarian.

Coakley entered a Framingham gymnasium yesterday to the theme from “Rocky,’’ joined by Kennedy’s widow, Vicki Kennedy, Senate President Therese Murray, and US Representative Edward J. Markey.

Markey compared Brown’s assertion that he is an “independent Republican’’ to “Salt Lake City nightlife.’’

“There is no such thing as an independent Republican,’’ he said. “Scott Brown wants to take us back to the B.C. era - the Bush-Cheney era.’’

Vicki Kennedy thanked voters for their support of her late husband and urged them to throw that same support behind Coakley. “She can’t do it without you,’’ Kennedy said. “We need everybody out there.’’

In Springfield, Coakley walked into the Teamsters Local 404 hall, with supporters shouting “Martha! Martha! Martha!’’ Agawam resident David G. Morin, 22, said he was supporting her because of her qualifications and positions on issues such as health care.

“If a Republican were elected it would completely derail the president’s agenda,’’ Morin said. “That would be horrible.’’

Brown took his campaign bus to North Andover, charming voters like Rosalie Cravotta, who held up a homemade sign that read, “Beam us up, Scottie!’’

“It’s the first time in my life I feel like my vote matters in Massachusetts,’’ said Cravotta, a 58-year-old Republican.

In Littleton, the Republican candidate hopped into the bed of his pickup truck to thank his supporters before shaking hands and autographing some signs and shirts of bundled members of the crowd.

“Never thought I’d see this in Massachusetts,’’ Chris Nuttle, 45, of Maynard, said from atop a snowbank outside the Littleton office.

Brown has used his truck, with its odometer at 200,000 miles, to cast himself as an everyman. The truck continued to command attention on Sunday, when Obama, campaigning with Coakley, quipped, “You’ve got to look under the hood,’’ and said that “everybody can buy a truck.’’

Brown swung back last night at his final campaign stop, at a Wrentham restaurant where supporters held signs with messages such as “Truck Owner For Brown,’’ and “The 41st Vote.’’

“Let me just tell you something, Mr. President. You can criticize my record. . . . But don’t ever start criticizing my truck,’’ Brown said to a roar of applause. “’Cause in a few months, I’m gonna pack up that truck and drive it right down to Washington.’’

Of course, if elected, Brown hopes to go to Washington in time to make his vote count on health care.