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.

Roughly 150 union members — Teamsters, SEIU, and AFL-CIO guys — gather on the lawn and line the driveway outside the JFK Library an hour before the election’s final statewide debate at UMass Boston. They wear their union shirts and hold “Martha Coakley for U.S. Senate” signs. As Coakley and her entourage arrive, the union members cheer. Coakley smiles and waves and walks inside.

Coakley’s strategy has always been to raise money, solicit endorsements from big-name Democrats, and prepare her best remarks for the cameras — the reason she’s quick to head inside tonight. She considers the race too short to do the glad-handing, sidewalk-pounding, door-knocking, please-vote-for-me politicking.

Scott Brown doesn’t think the race is too short for that. Glad-handing is pretty much all he does. Tonight he’s well on his way to logging 66 public events in the general election, to Coakley’s 19. His truck ad may have been disingenuous in its Everyman theme — the man owns five properties, after all, plus a timeshare in Aruba — but it was honest in terms of interpersonal mileage. Since as far back as September, he’s appeared at every spaghetti dinner that would have him.

Brown and his entourage arrive minutes after Coakley, and instead of heading inside toward the cameras, he shakes the hand of as many union members as he can. It takes a while, and the night is cold, but Brown is adamant. “Hi, my name is Scott,” or “Hey, thanks for coming out,” he says, over and over. One after another, the union members in the Coakley gear respond, “We’re with you, Scott. We’re just getting paid $50 to be here.”

More than the candidates’ disagreements over Obama’s healthcare bill — Coakley for it, Brown against it — more than Coakley’s almost obscene flub implying that there are no terrorists in Afghanistan (a misstatement that comes weeks after seven CIA operatives, including one from Massachusetts, were killed there), the debate’s most enduring moment came from Brown: “With all due respect, it’s not the Kennedys’ seat,” he said. “It’s not the Democrats’ seat. It’s the people’s seat.”

At Brown headquarters in Needham, campaign contributors line up out the door to drop off checks. Letters and e-mails are flooding the campaign — so many from all over the country that staffers print them out and post them floor to ceiling on one wall of the conference room. When that wall fills up, the e-mails and letters take over a second wall, and then a third.

Out in the field, campaign workers are running out of yard signs. Brown supporters drop by headquarters and the other campaign offices, asking for more. The staff hears that campaign signs are disappearing, but then learns that Brown supporters are stealing signs from each other and replanting them along streets with heavier traffic.

That’s not news to state Representative Vinny deMacedo. He drove around Plymouth a few days ago and stopped his car short. People had started staking homemade Scott Brown signs in their yards. He’d never seen anything like that, Democrat or Republican. He’s going to win this, deMacedo thought.

Meanwhile, DC Democratic operatives swarm Coakley headquarters. Depending on the perspective, either they were called in to save the campaign, or they finally got off their asses and traveled to Boston to help raise money, get out the vote, and handle an increasingly national press corps. Either way, what was once a campaign staff of 40 now numbers roughly 150. People from the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — all have different ideas and agendas, at times overlapping responsibilities with the Massachusetts staff. A meeting scheduled to hash out everyone’s role is, for some reason, cancelled. Chaos ensues. “Tuesday is not a good day,” one Coakley staffer will later say.