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Huge Stakes for Obama in Massachusetts Election

A surprise Republican victory in heavily Democratic Massachusetts would send political shockwaves around the country, emboldening Republicans and instilling fear into Democrats looking ahead to the November midterm congressional elections.

Voters in the northeastern state of Massachusetts are electing a U.S. senator Tuesday, and the outcome of the special election will have enormous political implications for President Barack Obama and his domestic policy agenda.

National attention is focused on the Massachusetts race for the seat of the late U.S. Senator, Ted Kennedy, who died last August.

At stake is the fate of President Obama's top domestic priority, health care reform.  Democrats need to maintain their 60 to 40 margin in the Senate to ensure final passage of a health care bill.

But the Republican candidate in Massachusetts, Scott Brown, has been surging in the polls.

"I'm excited, I'm energized, yet I'm not taking anything for granted," he said.

Brown's momentum has come at the expense of the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, who got some campaign help from President Obama on Sunday.

"That's the kind of leader the people of Massachusetts need, now more than ever!," said the president.

Political experts say the Massachusetts race has become a referendum of sorts on the Obama domestic agenda.

"It is obvious that this is a reaction in part to President Obama's agenda, and to health care reform," said Larry Sabato with the University of Virginia.

A surprise Republican victory in heavily Democratic Massachusetts would send political shockwaves around the country, emboldening Republicans and instilling fear into Democrats looking ahead to the November midterm congressional elections.

John Fortier is a political analyst with the American Enterprise Institute and a guest on VOA's Encounter program.

"That would be one, a bombshell in Washington, perhaps undermining health care itself," he said. "And two, it would be a very strong signal to Democrats that even in a very Democratic state, there are a lot of pressures against the majority party."

In the short term, a Republican victory in Massachusetts would give the Democrats only 59 of the 100 Senate seats, making it much easier for opposition Republicans to slow down or stop legislation through parliamentary delaying tactics.

A Republican victory would also complicate the final stages of the health care debate, where Democratic congressional leaders are trying to agree on a final version of reform by ironing out differences between the measures passed by the Senate and House of Representatives. 

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