Scott Brown Win Could Kill Healthcare--Obama Must Go to Massachusetts

With healthcare in the balance, Obama should go all in.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

President Obama should hit the campaign trail for Martha Coakley this weekend. He dipped a toe in the Massachusetts special election Thursday when he cut an online ad supporting her. He went in a bit more Friday when he recorded a robocall ("I rarely make these calls and I truly apologize for intruding on your day...") exhorting Coakley's election. The stakes, he said in the call, include healthcare reform, because the Massachusetts seat will be the difference between Democrats having a 60 seat majority and Republicans being able to sustain filibusters.

With stakes like that, Obama should stop inching in and take the plunge. Or to switch metaphors, go all in.

Polls show an incredibly tight race. Chances are that it will come down to a few thousand votes one way or the other. And with the Democratic base seeming listless and unmotivated, a visit from the still-popular president could provide the energy boost Coakley needs to make it across the finish line. The same poll that gave Brown a 4 point edge over Coakley today shows Obama with a 55 percent approval rating (ahead of Coakley's 49 percent but behind Bill Clinton's 59 percent and Brown's 57 percent).

Granted there are risks. An Obama visit, one Republican strategist says, "cuts both ways. ... It reinforces the narrative that she's supported by Washington." Indeed, the Suffolk poll showed that among people who cared, a new TV ad by Ted Kennedy's widow made them less likely to vote for Coakley.

But even while poll numbers for Obama's healthcare plan have dropped, Democrats have argued that once it passed people would come to like it. Democrats could take the beating now on the theory that in the end they would come out ahead. But if the legislation doesn't pass they're just left with a dead, unpopular bill and little else to run on in the fall.

The risk for Obama is that a campaign swing could frame the race in national eyes as an Obama referendum, making a Brown victory even more devastating. But (Coakley's campaign ineptitude aside) that's how the race will be described anyway. He can't avoid it, so he might as well live with it and jump in. The stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines.

Update: Ask and ye shall receive--Obama is going to campaign for Coakley on Sunday.

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