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Democrats Freaking Out About Potential Loss By Lethargic Martha Coakley In MA-Sen

When we last left Massachusetts, Martha Coakley had cruised to a triumphant victory in the Senate primary to replace Ted Kennedy, and was thought to be a lock to win the formality of a general election against Republican state Sen. Scott Brown. Coakley responded to her victory by practically dropping out of sight, and recent polling showed the race down to single digits.

The New York Times had a story today about the Coakley/Brown race, and how Democrats are starting to get nervous. Keep in mind that if they lost the seat, Democrats would be down to 59 votes in the US Senate, and under current rules that would not only blow up the health care bill but end any hopes of governance, period. Brown is running around saying he’s the #41 vote against health care and basing a good bit of his campaign on that fact. He also got on TV before Coakley despite having less resources.

But the dynamic has changed in recent days. The news that two senior Democratic senators will retire this year in the face of bleak re-election prospects has created anxiety and, even in this bluest of states, a sense that the balance of power has shifted dramatically from just a year ago.

With the holidays over and public attention refocused on the race, Ms. Coakley’s insistence on debating her Republican opponent, Scott P. Brown, only with a third-party candidate present has drawn mounting criticism.

And a new poll that showed a competitive race between Ms. Coakley and Mr. Brown has generated buzz on conservative blogs and energized the Brown campaign — though many news organizations dispute its methodology.

In a sudden flurry of activity, the Coakley campaign released its first television advertisement on Thursday and accepted the endorsement of Mr. Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, at a splashy event outside Boston.

Some of this is just your garden-variety Democratic anxiety. But according to pollster Tom Jensen, some of it is real. His polling of the race for Public Policy Polling show it close and the fundamentals trending away from Coakley:

At this point a plurality of those planning to turn out oppose the health care bill. The massive enthusiasm gap we saw in Virginia is playing itself out in Massachusetts as well. Republican voters are fired up and they’re going to turn out. Martha Coakley needs to have a coherent message up on the air over the last ten days that her election is critical to health care passing and Ted Kennedy’s legacy- right now Democrats in the state are not feeling a sense of urgency.

Scott Brown’s favorables are up around 60%, a product of his having had the airwaves to himself for the last week. By comparison Bob McDonnell’s were at 55% right before his election and Chris Christie’s were only at 43%. Coakley’s campaign or outside groups need to tie Brown’s image to national Republicans and knock him down a notch over the final week of the campaign.

This has become a losable race for Democrats- but it could also be easily winnable if Coakley gets her act together for the last week of the campaign. Complacency is the Democrats’ biggest enemy at this point and something that needs to be overcome to avoid a potential disaster.

This is almost malpractice on the part of Massachusetts Democrats should they manage to lose this race. is one progressive group springing into action. They sent a letter to supporters with the headline “a Republican in Ted Kennedy’s seat?”

A new poll Tuesday showed Democrat Martha Coakley’s lead in the special election to succeed Kennedy is at the edge of the margin of error, and the non-partisan Cook Political Report now says it’s very competitive. And today, some of the people behind the infamous Swift Boat and racist Willie Horton ads are spending $400,000 on a new attack ad. Republican Scott Brown and his extreme right-wing supporters are significantly outspending Coakley on TV.

A Republican victory here would be a catastrophe—Democrats would lose their 60th vote in the Senate, health care could die, and the Republicans could block pretty much anything they want.

We can’t let a right-winger take over Ted Kennedy’s seat because not enough progressives are paying attention. Coakley urgently needs help before it’s too late. Your contribution in the next 24 hours will help her expand her all-out campaign for victory. Can you contribute $40 to Coakley’s campaign right away?

Coakley has finally started to add events to her calendar, and national Democratic groups are starting to pay attention. But after all that’s been done on health care, to have it end over an uber-safe seat in Massachusetts would be almost comical.

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David Dayen

David Dayen