In Massachusetts, Scott Brown Rides a Political Perfect Storm

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Winslow Townson / AP

Scott Brown, left, campaigning in Boston's North End for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant after the death of Ted Kennedy

Scott Brown, wearing a dark suit, blue shirt and red stripe tie in the mild winter air, stood a few yards in front of a statue of Paul Revere and directly across the street from St. Stephen's Church, where Rose Kennedy's funeral Mass was celebrated in 1995, telling about 200 gleeful voters that they had a chance to rearrange a political universe. The crowd spilled across the sidewalk onto the narrow street that cuts through the heart of the city's North End, the local cannoli capital, located in Ward 3 that Barack Obama carried 2 to 1 just 15 months ago.

" 'Scuse me," Joanne Prevost said to a man who had two "Scott Brown for Senate" signs tucked under his left arm. "Can I have one of those signs? I'll put it in my window. My office is right there."

She turned and pointed across the street to a storefront with the words 'Anzalone Realty' stenciled on window. "Everybody will see it."

Joanne Prevost used to be an important precinct captain for Kevin White, a former mayor of Boston. A Catholic, she was baptized Democrat and now, here she was, putting a big sign in her window for a Republican riding the wave of a perfect political storm, his candidacy propelled upward by a combustible combination of resentment, anxiety and anger toward anyone — anyone in either party — carrying a curious illness called incumbentitis.

Brown is a 50-year-old state senator, a tall, amiable, good-looking guy with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair who could pass for a high school football coach. He comes from a village 15 miles (24 km) west of Boston where the total vote wouldn't fill the bleachers at Fenway Park, but in the space of about a month he has utilized his personality, a smile and a lot of handshakes to capitalize on voter frustration with nearly everything to bring the papier-mâché campaign of the Democrat, the incumbent state attorney general, Martha Coakley, to its knees.

As Tuesday approaches, Coakley desperately seeks to eke out a win after she and her staff spent the past month acting like un-indicted co-conspirators in destroying a 30-point lead. She has approached the public with the demeanor of a substitute teacher with little interest in her students' lives. In a state where politics and revenge are in the blood, poor Martha Coakley apparently never learned that a name on the ballot is nothing more than a job application. People want to be asked for their vote. People want a retail-shopping experience with a candidate: eye contact, a handshake. Elections are not coronations. Coakley spent a month behaving like a fugitive, attending fundraisers and meeting with mayors instead of hurling herself at the public.

"As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?" she said dismissively to the media, after being asked why she was practically hiding out.

Now, she has forced the President of the United States to preside over two rescue operations: Haiti and saving a Senate seat for Democrats. Friday, it was Bill Clinton in town to help drag her across the finish line. Obama arrives Sunday.

The state, Massachusetts, is often mistaken for an easy Democrat layup. Ted Kennedy was elected nine times. Democrats dominate the state legislature. And voters sit, feeling helpless, voiceless and powerless as joblessness grows, taxes rise, services dwindle, disillusionment prospers and the roster of family anxieties about tuitions, mortgage payments, employment, two wars and a whole lot more make negative ads and campaign rhetoric seem hollow. Add the fact that many voters seem to feel questions about the cost of health care reform and the size of the budget deficit go unheard, and politics becomes flammable.

Now, Brown finished speaking. He plunged into the crowd alongside former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Given the often contrived and polarizing conflict that dominates the cable-TV landscape, it would be easy, on the outside looking in, to slap a Tea Party label on Brown's supporters. But most of those lunging for his hand were not lunatics from the fringe, merely Democrats and Independents feeling bruised, ignored and taken for granted by people in power.

So here was a state senator, virtually unknown outside of his immediate family just last Thanksgiving, being greeted with a clamor at the fire house, Ladder 1 — Engine 8, on Hanover Street. Then, it was Caffe Vittoria and Mike's Pastry, where a Republican has often been made to feel like Alex Rodriguez standing at the plate in Fenway. No longer.

Election day arrives Tuesday. Polls show it's jump ball. Democrats are on their knees praying that a last-second three pointer from Barrack Obama can save the seat and rescue his agenda. But, in a sense, Scott Brown has already won; not simply for his party, Republican, but for any candidate across the landscape who looks toward a volatile November with the message, "It's our turn."