By Karl Vick and Michael D. Shear
Friday, January 15, 2010; 3:42 PM
BOSTON -- President Obama will travel to Massachusetts on Sunday to campaign on behalf of state Attorney General Martha Coakley, the White House said Friday -- an indication of the difficulty she faces in a U.S. Senate election next week after long being considered a shoo-in.
Republican state Sen. Scott Brown is running neck-and-neck with Coakley in recent polls of the Bay State as both vie for the Senate seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy (D). The winner of Tuesday's special election will become the first person not closely affiliated with the Kennedy family to hold the seat since 1952.
The White House had been saying for days that the president had "no plans" to go to Massachusetts, but the loss of the Senate seat would greatly complicate, if not doom, the fate of health-care reform legislation moving through Congress.
White House officials played down the significance of the president's trip, saying only that Obama is happy to be able to accept the campaign's invitation.
"We're not on the ballot. There's a campaign in Massachusetts going on. We're happy to lend our support," said press secretary Robert Gibbs. "I think the president believes he can be helpful and is happy to accept the invitation."
Brown sought to stay on the offensive Friday by bringing Rudolph W. Giuliani to stump here for him. Coakley planned to counter later in the day with former president Bill Clinton.
Standing beneath a statue of Paul Revere, who appeared to lean a guiding hand down to the pols, Brown and the former New York mayor best known for his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks struck hard at Coakley, the state attorney general who has fumbled her rationale for opposing the war in Afghanistan.
"We're right here in the shadow of Paul Revere, who warned about danger, and woke up the people of Massachusetts and New England in a much earlier time in our history," Giuliani said. "And we need Scott to wake us up about some of the mistakes that we're making.
"This election, I believe, will send a signal, and a very dramatic one that we are going in the wrong direction on terrorism."
Lusty cheers broke out from the small crowd, along with chants of "Go, Scott, Go." The news that a poll from Suffolk University had Brown four points up, two months after he was down by 31 points, fed the sensation of momentum. "Great Scott" was the headline on the conservative-leaning Boston Herald.
Brown, 50, has pushed hard on the national security issue since a debate between the candidates Monday, where Coakley offered a clumsy version of her standard justification for opposing President Obama's troop increase in Afghanistan.
During the Democratic primary, Coakley frequently quoted U.S. military intelligence estimates that only a handful of al-Qaeda operatives remain in Afghanistan, and she argued that the efforts should be concentrated on Pakistan and other places where the group has taken refuge.
But on Monday, she referred instead to "terrorists" in Afghanistan, a broader term that, to most Americans, takes in the Taliban. Coakley declined a later opportunity to clarify, and Brown made the most of the blunder, setting up a news conference Thursday with a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and Friday's event with the mayor he introduced as "a living legend."
"Frankly, his opponent's ignorance about the issues is astounding," Giuliani said.
Both Republicans railed against the Obama adminstration's decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in U.S. criminal court in Manhattan, voicing fears about inviting attacks and the safety of air travel.
"Pretty soon they're gonna want to try one here in Boston, or how about Atlanta," Giuliani said. "Before something worse happens than happened on Christmas Day, maybe you've got to send a signal, send a signal loud and clear. And if the people of Massachusetts do it, boy, it'll be heard, all around the country!"
Brown, a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, has trumpeted his military credentials and campaigned for the votes of veterans.
"Scott's background in the military speaks volumes for his understanding about what we face," Giuliani said. "And frankly his opponent's ignorance about the issues facing us is astounding. I can't imagine during the debate suggesting that there is no Taliban or al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan. What the heck does she think we're doing there?"
Brown is emphasizing an issue that has worked well for Republicans over most of the decade, especially for President George W. Bush. Coakley's television advertising tries mightily to link Brown to the Bush administration, and for a moment Friday, Giuliani risked helping that cause: "Remember the Bush tax cuts come up this year," he said.
But the moment passed, and the guest found his way back to the themes that appear to have worked best for Brown: the insurgent underdog offering himself as a noble alternative to one-party rule, both in the Bay State and Washington.
"Massachusetts belongs to them!" Giuliani said sardonically. "They own Massachusetts. They think Massachusetts belongs to you?"
Brown ended by appealing Democrats to cross party lines on Tuesday. Polls show him winning the lion's share of independents who, in terms of registration, account for half of the electorate.
"This is a big tent, folks," he said. "One thing I know you all have in common is you believe in fairness and good government. Well, right now, it's broken here in Beacon Hill. There's one-party rule that's contributing to three speakers being indicted, three senators resigned in disgrace. One's in jail right now.
"In Washington, there's no debate. Everything's being done in the back rooms. The health-care bill, we've lost faith, and we need to send it back to start over. . . . So if you're a Democrat, and you believe in good government, think outside your comfort zone and make sure that you get involved," Brown said.
Shear reported from Washington.