Could JFK's old seat really fall into Republican hands?

The unthinkable could happen in Massachusetts, where Democrats are worried they could lose the Senate post held by Ted Kennedy for 47 years

For Democrats, it would be the cruellest stroke of all: the decisive vote against United States health reform, brought about by the loss of the seat held by the legendary American politician most identified with the cause of that reform – and at the very moment when the bruising battle to secure it at last seemed won.

The odds still are the nightmare will not happen. Most observers believe that Martha Coakley will defeat the Republican candidate Scott Brown in the Massachusetts senate election next Tuesday to choose a permanent replacement for Edward Kennedy, who held the seat for almost 47 years until his death last August. But no one any longer is sure, which is startling enough by itself.

Massachusetts, a place virtually synonymous with liberalism in the US, has had the odd Republican governor in recent years. But no Republican has been a senator for the state since Edward Brooke was defeated in 1978, and registered Democrats currently outnumber registered Republicans in the state by three to one.

The loss of the "Kennedy seat," held not only by Edward but by his brother John, the murdered former president, before him, would thus be a huge shock – akin to Republicans losing a Senate seat in Kansas or Texas. Now a contest that once seemed a canter has tightened sufficiently to set Democrats' nerves jangling.

Although a Boston Globe poll at the weekend showed Ms Coakley, the Massachusetts state attorney general, ahead of Mr Brown by a comfortable 15 points, other surveys put her lead in single digits, and one even has her opponent fractionally ahead.

Making Democrats even more anxious, the special election is being held in the depths of winter, on the day after a national holiday, Martin Luther King Day, when many voters may be returning from a long weekend break. Turnout is thus expected to be low, increasing the chances of an upset.

The 50-year old Mr Brown however has also done his part to scramble the odds. A member of the Massachusetts state legislature since 1998, he has been criss-crossing the state in his trademark pick-up truck, selling himself as what some have called a "JFK Republican" – a fiscal conservative and a proponent of a strong national defence, who has served in the National Guard for 30 years, but a moderate on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

He also portrays himself as an outsider, not beholden to the existing Republican establishment. This in turn has boosted his appeal to independents, among whom he is leading by two to one, according to one poll. It is also attracting support from the insurgent Tea Party movement, anti-tax, anti-deficit and ferociously against the emerging health care reform bill, and which is emerging as a force on the national political scene. Mr Brown also opposes the Democrats' proposals as a costly and unwarranted expansion of central government.

Ms Coakley's campaign by contrast has been widely criticised as stale, lacklustre and complacent. In a sign of her newfound concern, she is running attack adverts saying her opponent is "in lockstep" with the unpopular Republican leadership in Washington.

Other television spots seek to link Mr Brown with Sarah Palin, the Republicans' divisive 2008 vice-presidential nominee, little loved in liberal New England. The national party meanwhile is sending some of its biggest guns, including former president Bill Clinton, to stump for Ms Coakley in the closing days of the campaign.

The stakes could not be higher, with health care negotiations in their decisive final phase. The finished product will then have to be voted on by both chambers. Approval in the House is all but certain, whatever the reluctance of liberal Democrats to make concessions to keep conservative Democrats in the Senate on board.

Even then however, the Democrats still require a filibuster-proof super-majority of 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate. Were Mr Brown to win on Tuesday and be quickly seated, the Republicans would gain the crucial 41st vote that would block reform.

The Kennedy: Seat A Democrat domain

So closely associated with American political royalty that it is referred to as "The Kennedy Seat", the Massachusetts senate seat up for election has long been a Democratic certainty. Edward Kennedy, widely considered one of the greatest ever senators, held the job from 1962 until his death last year; before that, his brother John – that is, JFK – had been in place for seven years between 1953 and 1960. When "Ted" died, his nephew Joseph was considered a frontrunner to be his successor – in large part thanks to his family name – until he withdrew from consideration. Even now, Republican candidate Scott Brown is fighting against a natural pro-Kennedy tide. "With all due respect," he said at a recent debate, "It's not the Kennedy's seat, it's not the Democrats' seat. It's the people's seat.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
News
i100
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club that later became synonymous with Hillsborough has dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor