Politics: Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate Win

State Senator Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate win over Attorney General Martha Coakley stunned the nation, derailed Obama’s signature political initiative, and handed state Republicans their first major victory in decades. Here, a behind-the-scenes look at the final days of the historic campaign for Ted Kennedy’s seat.

It begins — or begins to end — with a secret that is hard to keep.

In a bland three-story building on Second Street in Washington, DC, pollsters for the National Republican Senatorial Committee decipher a new survey they conducted. The results shock not only them but also the NRSC’s leader, the gray-haired, slightly dour Senator John Cornyn, from Texas: In the Massachusetts race for the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat, Democrat Martha Coakley holds a mere 3-point lead over Republican Scott Brown among independents most likely to vote in the January 19 election.

This is astonishing. Coakley is the unbeatable candidate, the Democrat who emerged from a tough four-way primary with a 19-point win and is now running on such progressive standbys as tightly regulated banks and universal healthcare — and in a state that reveres its progressive standbys. Scott Brown is the stand-in, the Republican whose candidacy has been considered a dogged pursuit of a moral victory: Maybe one day he’ll get a statewide seat out of this, the thinking goes, state auditor perhaps. “Winning by losing” is actually how Brown’s campaign leaders have framed his chances against Coakley.

But this poll is something. When Senator Cornyn scans it, he sees the anxiety of a populace in a time of near-double-digit -unemployment. And the poll shows Massachusetts’ independent voters — the largest bloc in the state, at 52 percent — to oppose by a two-to-one margin President Barack Obama’s signature initiative, his universal healthcare proposal. Brown is against Obama’s measure. Cornyn knows the issue can be exploited to Brown’s advantage and, with any luck, provide national Republicans with the pivotal 41st vote needed to filibuster the bill in the United States Senate.

Cornyn shares the poll with Brown’s campaign staff in Massachusetts two days before Christmas. But what he does next is more shocking than the actual poll results: nothing.

As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Cornyn could raise gobs of money for Brown, a man suddenly poised to win the unwinnable. But a fundraising flurry might pique the suspicions of his Democratic counterparts.

No, Cornyn decides, better to keep this poll under wraps. Better to tell Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, an excitable man, to shut the hell up about any exciting news he hears out of Massachusetts, and to distance all other national Republicans from Brown, too, so that he’s able to run as the independent he claims to be. Better to keep the Democrats drowsy and dreaming about the inevitability of Martha Coakley’s victory.

Better to see if doing nothing might accomplish the most of all.