BOSTON – Democrats and Republicans ramped up election eve get-out-the-vote efforts in their close battle for a Massachusetts Senate seat that could decide the fate of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and the rest of his agenda at the opening of the 2010 midterm campaign season.
Obama needs newly embattled Martha Coakley to win Tuesday's special election for the late Edward Kennedy's Senate seat and deny Republicans the ability to block his initiatives with a 41st filibuster-sustaining GOP vote.
The president campaigned here Sunday with Coakley, who has seen the double-digit lead she had two weeks ago evaporate under a strong challenge by Republican state Sen. Scott Brown.
Voter turnout is normally low in special elections, but even in staunchly Democratic Massachusetts, apprehension about Obama's health care overhaul is fueling a huge wave of populist support for Brown.
Polls show that independents, who make up 51 percent of the state's electorate, have responded enthusiastically to Brown. His campaign is targeting them as well Republicans, who are outnumbered by Democrats 3-to-1 in the Bay State.
Preparing for the worst, the White House and Democratic allies in Washington tried to plot a way to salvage their health care package if Brown wins. One scenario would push House Democrats to accept the health care bill the Senate passed last month even though it offers fewer people coverage.
Trying to wrest back the populist mantle, Obama told supporters Sunday that a vote for Brown was a vote to protect Wall Street at the expense of ordinary Americans. The president last week proposed a tax on banks to close a deficit in a bailout fund they and automakers tapped during the financial crisis. Brown and other Republicans oppose the tax, saying it will trickle down to consumers.
"Martha's opponent already is walking in lockstep with Washington Republicans," Obama told a rally crowd. "She's got your back; her opponent's got Wall Street's back."
Democrats insist that the new assault on Wall Street is working and that voters have started to respond. Party officials said 3,500 campaign volunteers contacted 575,000 voters on Saturday alone, and they claim a 15-percent increase in likely Democratic participation since Friday.
GOP leaders nationwide asked supporters to pitch in to help Brown's campaign.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sent out an e-mail asking his backers to make calls on Brown's behalf, even though Brown has largely distanced himself from Romney, whose popularity has ebbed in the state.
Former Bush White House adviser Karl Rove used his Twitter account to link to a phone-bank site, while Sen. John McCain, Obama's rival in the 2008 presidential contest, is promoting Brown on his political action committee's Web site.
The Coakley and Brown campaigns also were bombarding supporters with automated phone calls. The Democrats used appeals from Clinton and Obama, while Republicans have relied on calls from Brown himself and beloved Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
Concern among Democrats about turnout has been palpable. At a largely black church service Sunday, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino implored congregants to call at least 10 friends and make sure they planned to vote Tuesday.
At a Coakley rally in Hyannis Sunday, state Senate President Therese Murray went the high-tech route. "We need you on Facebook, on YouTube, on e-mail, texting ... however you communicate," she said, encouraging supporters to use those tools as a way to get their friends to show up at the polls.
Snowfall could be a concern: The National Weather Service said up to 8 inches will fall in parts of the state by midday Monday. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin said late Sunday that he was working with the state's Emergency Management Agency to ensure voters have access to all polling places Tuesday.
Coakley and Brown were expected to start their last day of the campaign together, at a breakfast honoring the late Rev. Martin Luther King on the national holiday commemorating the civil rights leader's birthday. Coakley was then headed to campaign events in western Massachusetts, while Brown planned to wrap up with a rally in his hometown of Wrentham.