Coakley voters hold their noses and vote for the Democrat
By Karl Vick
BOSTON -- In the Roxbury section of Boston, a woman in her mid-70s guided a woman in her early 90s through steadily falling snow and over the ridges of slush that in late morning stood between a citizen's sense of civic duty and a polling place.
"Up one," Fran Powers, 75, told her companion, announcing the step at the doorway of the Tobin Community Center on Tremont Street.
"To vote," Powers said. "Otherwise why would you come out on a day like today?"
The younger woman said she would mark her ballot for Martha Coakley, the state attorney general who Democrats say needs a stronger-than-usual turnout in precincts like this one in order to win the U.S. Senate seat against Scott Brown, the surging Republican.
"I'm a Democrat," said Powers. "I'm voting for Martha."
Helen Bath, 92, played it coy.
"It all depends," she said. "I could vote for either one."
"The other fella," said Powers, "he's independent, right?"
Brown is in fact Republican, serving in the statehouse from suburban Boston for 11 years. But he has scarcely mentioned his party in his surging campaign for Teddy Kennedy's old seat. Instead, Brown addresses "independent-thinking voters" in television spots that feature him standing in a kitchen.
"My daughter-in-law called last night, said, 'Make sure you vote for the right person,'" said Bath. "She's Republican."
A woman in a purple driving jacket came in out of the snow. Mary Fitzpatrick drove the pair to the polls, and said she would do the same for anyone on Tuesday, so special was this special election.
"I'm going with Martha because I don't want anyone disrupting the process of trying to get the health care bill," said Fitzpatrick, 75. "Plus, the Wall Street. They should tax them, get the money back!"
Inside, poll workers reported a moderate turnout by 11 a.m. More people were voting than showed up by the same time for the Dec. 8 primary, but it was too early to say if the pace would match November, when local offices were in play. The ethnically diverse neighborhood is historically African American but richly laced with students and immigrants. Elderly translators sat up straight at a nearby table, available to help voters in Vietnamese, Chinese or Spanish.
"I think it will pick up," said Bill Sullivan, a polling clerk, who noted that in this neighborhood, the biggest surge usually comes late in the day, after work. "The weather's got something to do with it."
On the sidewalk along Tremont Street, at the start of the uphill grade leading to the polling place entrance, there were two Brown supporters for the one Coakley volunteer. The Coakley partisan handed out a flyer topped by a photo of Kennedy and his quote: "The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on."
"On Tuesday" the flyer says, "the work must go on."
The flyer John Clifford handed out was a photocopy of his own devising: "If you want to live under socialism and communism vote for Martha Coakley," it read, in handwritten capital letters. "If you want to live under freedom, vote for Scott Brown."
"The government is taking over the auto companies, it's taking over the banks, and he [Obama] wants to take over the health care system," said Clifford, 83. "I want to make my own decisions."
He said he is a registered Democrat. "What else can you do here?" he said, with a smile. "I'm actually libertarian."
So might be Antony Rogers, a pre-engineering student at Roxbury Community College. Rogers, 20, said he was tempted by Joseph L. Kennedy, the Libertarian Party activist on the ballot as an independent. "But independents never make it," Rogers said, so he would vote for Coakley.
He had needed to convince himself, however.
"When I was watching the debate, it didn't really seem like she was going for it," Rogers said. "But I did a little research, and she's got the right positions."
"I'm a Democrat, so I've got to go for the Democrats," he said.
Did Obama's appeal for turnout stir him?
Rogers, who is African American, smiled. "It gave me a little bit more ambition," he said.
Said Joan Shibers, a poll worker: "I don't know how much, but I know it helped."
The Suffolk University poll of three traditionally Democratic towns -- Fitchburg, Gardner and Peabody -- that historically mirror the statewide election result had Brown ahead by 14, 15 and 17 points over the weekend. "When you have all three bellwethers showing a more-than 10-point lead, that might show you something's happening out there," said David Paleologos, the poll director.
Tuesday morning's headline on Metro, the free subway tabloid, featured a photo of a disconsolate-looking president below the headline: "Obama singing blue state blues."
In the community center doorway, letter carrier Tim Flynn stomped the mush off his shoes and prepared to cast his vote reluctantly.
"I really don't like Martha Coakley at all, but I'm voting for her," said Flynn, 48. "She's a nasty person. Twenty years ago there was this horrible child abuse case, and she turned it into a witchhunt....It's Boston. We all have memories.
"And she's run a terrible campaign. She won the primary, and it's a done deal! I think she's gonna lose."
So why bother voting?
"You know," Flynn said, "health care. Health care. I kind of like the president. I don't like her."
An independent, he cast a ballot for U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano, a flinty partisan who radiates passion, in the Democratic primary.
"He would have made a race of it," Flynn said. "And now I think we're gonna lose. I got a friend who's active in precinct politics and he said a lot people who usually vote Democrat are not going to.
"And if they don't win Boston big they don't win at all."
January 19, 2010; 1:52 PM ET
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