Liberals Hit the Panic Button in Race for Kennedy Senate Seat

The real message: Give us some money.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The tightening of the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's senate seat is making liberals nervous--or at least is making them try to scare their donors into coughing up a few more bucks for Democratic nominee Martha Coakley's campaign.

From a fundraising email MoveOn.org sent out this afternoon (emphasis theirs):

In 11 days, we could lose progressive hero Ted Kennedy's Senate seat—and with it, any hope for passing major progressive legislation this year. ... 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 $5 to Coakley's campaign right away?

Is the GOP really in danger of winning the Massachusetts senate race? The answer is a qualified yes. MoveOn sites a Rasmussen poll from earlier in the week which shows Coakley leading Republican nominee Scott Brown 50-41 (a gap which the liberal group describes as "at the edge of the margin of error," a dubious assertion given that the margin is 4.5 percent). That margin is surprisingly tight, but they fail to mention that Democrats routinely blast Rasmussen as leaning to the right.

And over the last couple of days it has become clear that the senate race is not the slam dunk most observers predicted. The Cook Political Report moved it from "Solid D" to "Lean D." Massachusetts-based Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, who thinks Coakley will win, says that while Obama remains personally popular in the commonwealth, local Democrats are not. "It wouldn't surprise me if the margin is uncomfortable," he says.

And the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling reports a " massive enthusiasm gap" in favor of Bay State Republicans, with a plurality of voters opposing the Obama healthcare plan. "This has become a losable race for Democrats," the firm's Tom Jensen blogs, "but it could also be easily winnable if Coakley gets her act together for the last week of the campaign."

Therein lies the rub. Coakley has outraised Brown by almost 5-1, but the Republican was alone on television until Thursday. Massachusetts is a heavily Democratic state, but as Tip O'Neill famously observed you can't simply expect people to vote for you. They want to be asked.

The bottom line is that Coakley should win, but it may well be by a slimmer-than-originally-expected margin. Pulling off a "Massachusetts Miracle,"  Cook's Jennifer Duffy writes, "will require the Republican nominee to climb a very steep hill in the final days of the race." A telling sign of serious tightening would be either of the national parties moving late money into the race. Outside groups are starting to mobilize: The conservative American Future Fund has spent $400,000 on television ads and a tea party PAC has spent $11,000 on Internet mailings about it.

Even if they don't spend money, look for both sides to raise it hand over fist on this race for the next 11 days.