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What Brown can do for you

"What Brown can do for you" Continued...

Issue: "The Haiti quake," Feb. 13, 2010

With national attention swiveling to Massachusetts, the race tightened and more national groups jumped into the fray, especially those on both sides of the healthcare debate. Pro-life groups supported Brown, concerned that the final healthcare bill wouldn't have sufficient abortion restrictions, including Catholic Families for America, Priests for Life, Catholic Vote Action, and the Susan B. Anthony List (even if some of these groups didn't endorse him outright).

Kevin Roberts, executive director for Catholic Families for America, said the organization held back "some of the ammunition" in its efforts on behalf of Brown because of his support of Roe. But he argued that they had a "moral obligation" to support Brown over Coakley. "Some pro-life people might sit on their hands, so they'll just not vote. That's a mistake."

Brown distanced himself from "outside groups," even asking them repeatedly to "stay away," though he didn't single out pro-life groups. "His faith is very private . . . like a typical New Englander. You never talk about politics or religion," Mineau explained. Brown is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

In a debate a week before the election, Coakley suggested she wouldn't vote for healthcare reform if it included the Stupak amendment, which gave the House version tougher restrictions on abortion funding than the Senate version offered. Brown-who in principle supports government-run healthcare as it exists in Massachusetts but opposes a federal plan-stated his support for a ban on federal funding of abortions. At the same time Brown has used Obama's line that he hopes "to reduce the number of abortions."

Mineau isn't turned off by Brown's big tent platform-in fact he wishes there were more candidates like Brown because he thinks they can win in blue states and help the pro-life cause.

"I wish I had 1,000 candidates like him," said Jennifer Nassour, chair of the Massachusetts GOP, standing on a snow-pocked sidewalk in the North End of Boston, a historically Italian neighborhood near wharfs and fish markets. It was four days before the election and she was following Brown down Hanover Street as he greeted deli workers and deliverymen, with Rudy Giuliani at his side. "Hey Jim!" he called out to a man crossing the street-he knew a lot of names even though he wasn't in his hometown. The air, not frigid, still held the wet cold of Boston, and bystanders stood bundled while Brown wore just his business suit, no gloves-he had a lot of hands to shake, even in the heavily liberal city.

"When I first heard he was running, I thought it was laughable," said Coakley volunteer Sandy Coy that day. "We took it for granted."

Off the snowy sidewalks, inside the luxurious Fairmont Copley Hotel in downtown Boston, a ballroom full of Coakley supporters waited for former president Bill Clinton to arrive to deliver a rally speech. Members of the audience complained that they were too warm. "I'm sorry, we've got the AC cranked up as high as it can go," explained an organizer.

Clinton arrived late but lit up the room, speaking extemporaneously even though he said he hadn't slept in days. Coakley followed him and spoke only briefly, looking at notes, pausing at the wrong moments-a government official uncomfortable with being a political candidate. She left out the back of the room without shaking any hands.

That evening on a Boston radio program she referred to former Red Sox great Curt Schilling as a Yankee fan, not a minor slip-up in one of the most baseball-crazy states in the country. The very bad day for Martha Coakley wasn't over yet. She went on another radio program and implied that Catholics-or anyone else with pro-life convictions-shouldn't work in emergency rooms if they aren't willing to dispense the morning-after pill to rape victims. "You can have religious freedom," she said, "but you probably shouldn't work in the emergency room."

Forty percent of Massachusetts' population is Catholic. "I would be willing to bet that that 5 point margin that he won by was at least the pro-life involvement, if not more," Mineau said.

President Obama flew in Sunday to rally Democratic support as another poll emerged showing Brown up by 5 points. Obama won Massachusetts by 26 points in 2008, but he miscalculated the nature of the electorate in 2010, mocking Brown's truck several times in his speech. "Anyone can buy a truck," he said. But that's why voters liked Brown: He was an "anyone," he was a no one.

Election Day, at Coakley's final campaign stop at the Boston Public Library, about a dozen supporters showed up. Brown was inside Boston's Park Plaza Hotel, waiting with his wife Gail Huff and daughters, Ayla, 21, and Arianna, 19, for his party to start.

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