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.

A new independent poll from Rasmussen Reports shows Coakley’s overall lead diminishing to 9 points, 50 to 41 percent. Among the all-important independents, she now trails by a large margin, 21 percent to 65. Coakley’s seemingly cavalier attitude — letting Brown run a week of unopposed ads, limiting campaign stops — is harming her candidacy. Meanwhile, 45 percent of Massachusetts voters now disapprove of the nation’s healthcare bill, a telling tally in a state with its own universal coverage — and a potential boon to Brown, who vows to stop the national passage of a similar plan.

But what the data represents, even more than the sum of its conclusions, is what the race will become from here on out: a national affair. As hundreds of thousands of dollars flow into Brown’s headquarters, much of it from outside the state, national Democratic operatives begin bombarding Coakley’s headquarters in Charlestown with phone calls and e-mails, asking what her own polling shows.

The Coakley campaign is forced to admit that from December 22 until now, it hasn’t polled at all.

The Democratic Party is not pleased.

Among the concerned is U.S. Senator John Kerry. He wants to know what he can do to help. His office begins calling Coakley’s; Kerry would like to speak with the candidate directly. The campaign’s response? “Talk to Dennis.”

Dennis is Dennis Newman, the longtime political consultant for Coakley. Kerry’s office calls her office repeatedly in the coming days, but the call is never returned.

Finally, Kerry himself gets on the phone from his home in Beacon Hill. He’s recuperating from hip surgery and is not in a good mood. “If she gets elected,” he tells a Coakley staffer, “her colleagues are going to want to reach her, and she is going to want to reach her colleagues. That’s how this works.” A meeting is arranged for Saturday, January 9, at Kerry’s home.

Kerry isn’t the only one encountering insularity from the Coakley campaign. In the week following the Rasmussen poll, Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray organizes 50 or so state legislators, mayors, councilors, and activists in Worcester County, and has them join him one night in the back room at Viva Bene, an Italian restaurant in Worcester. Murray’s message to the county’s power players is simple: We all need to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible — this race is getting too close. Murray himself has recently been asked to help the Coakley campaign, and wants a show of hands as to who else has been contacted by Coakley’s staff. Maybe three hands go up. Fifty of the most connected people in the county, and almost none of them contacted. “Clearly there was a level of frustration,” Murray will later say. “I think it was problematic to have your statewide campaign operation being run completely out of Boston.”

Even in Boston, though, one very powerful Democrat feels excluded. Early in the morning of January 4, hours before being inaugurated to an unprecedented fifth term, Mayor Tom Menino is worrying about Martha Coakley. He’d heard the campaign was in trouble and wanted to help, but he couldn’t get a call back. Why don’t they want my help? he keeps wondering.

A longtime Coakley aide will later offer this explanation for the candidate’s lack of interaction with certain Democratic figures: “Kevin [Conroy], Dennis [Newman] — they thought they knew Martha better than anyone else.” After all, running things their way had won her the primary by nearly 20 points.

But Newman, Conroy, and Coakley have never been in a political battle as heated as this.