Massachusetts Election: LIVE BLOG

Massachusetts Election: LIVE BLOG

9:30 p.m. EST: It’s over. With 77% reporting, the Associated Press has called the race for Republican Scott Brown. Ted Kennedy’s seat just flipped to the other side of the aisle, Obama’s health care reform just hit the reef, and Martha Coakley just became a first ballot entrant into the How-Did-You-Lose-This-Race Hall of Fame.

There will be plenty of time to dissect this catastrophe, but it’s enough for one night. I’ll watch the Coakley concession from my couch. This is a room full of doom, and I need a smoke.

Thanks for reading.

William Rivers Pitt

9:20 p.m. EST: The old bromides about large turnout being helpful to Democrats do not seem to be applying here. With 65% reporting, almost 1.5 million votes have been cast and counted. That’s an absurdly high turnout for a non-November election in a day-long snowstorm, and 35% still has yet to be counted.

52-47 for Brown, more than an 85,000 vote margin. Nope, turnout seems to have not helped the Democrats. Another bit of Massachusetts political mythology tossed onto the bonfire of this strange, cold night.

William Rivers Pitt

9:10 p.m. EST: With 59% reporting, Brown has increased his lead 53-46. His vote lead has increased to almost 90,000. Kennedy has less than 13,000 votes.

This room is about half full, and everyone of age appears to be drinking heavily. By contrast, the big TVs are showing the Brown headquarters, and it is packed to the rafters in there. They smell a winner, and have every reason to be optimistic. This is not a victory party here. It’s a funeral.

For the record, the band here sucks pretty hardcore, too.

William Rivers Pitt

8:50 p.m. EST: With 29% reporting, Brown still holds a 53-47 lead, almost 40,000 votes ahead. Kennedy has an eyelash over 6,000 votes, so people can begin to comfortably categorize his impact on this race as negligible.

The big cities always report in last, so there is a margin for Coakley to make up this deficit, but it’s a wee one and the numbers look grim. S I write this, they just updated the tally with 37% in: Brown 52-47 over Coakley, 45,000 votes up. Brown leads comfortably in Suffolk, Middlesex and Worcester counties.

I think mayhap the deal has gone down here in Massachusetts.

William Rivers Pitt

8:35 p.m. EST: With 13% in, Brown leads 53-46, about 23,000 votes ahead. The Independent candidate, Joseph Kennedy, has less than 3,000 votes.

It is very, very, very quiet in here. Brown’s margin has increased with every update.

William Rivers Pitt

8:20 p.m. EST: With 4% in, Brown leads Coakley 52-47. There is still a long, long way to go, Coakley is only down by about 5,000 votes, and the large metro areas of the state have yet to report in. “Too Close To Call” is the watchword for the evening thus far.

William Rivers Pitt

8:18 p.m. EST: Just spoke to a campaign worker who seemed to be looking for a noose. He just got a call from Winthrop, a traditionally Democratic stronghold. According to his source, which was someone else in the campaign, Brown won every Winthrop district.

William Rivers Pitt

8:15 p.m. EST: First returns:

Brown 62%
Coakley 37%

1% reporting

Could be a long night for the folks in here.

William Rivers Pitt

8:02 p.m. EST: I’m in the room, availing myself of the free food before things really get rolling. There is zero enthusiasm in here despite the music thumping out of speakers in every corner. Nobody looks worried, but nobody looks confident.

The polls are closed in Massachusetts. Strap in, here we go.

William Rivers Pitt

7:45 p.m. EST: The doors to the ballroom will open in 15 minutes, but I managed to worm my way in through a back door. The place looks ready for a Rolling Stones concert, lights everywhere, huge stage and a riser in the middle of the room holding what appears to be every news camera in the world. If the Coakley people knew my history with these “victory parties,” they’d throw me out immediately. The last two election-night events like this I covered – John Kerry’s 2004 gathering in Copley Square and Christine Cegelis’ confab in Illinois in 2006 – did not end well for the candidates in question. Will history repeat itself?

The band is warming up with “Stand By Me.” It’s anyone’s guess what that should mean.

William Rivers Pitt

7:30 p.m. EST: The lobby outside the Sheraton ballroom where Coakley will end her campaign in victory or defeat is quiet for now. Maybe 30 people, campaign workers and press, are milling about waiting for something to do, somewhere to go, waiting for the word. Polls close at 8:00 p.m., so this time is akin to the ionization blackout that happens when returning spacecraft hit the atmosphere.

One way or another, we will know what’s what soon.

Before I got here, I took one last pass through my neighborhood polling station. The ballot reader read 892, and there were maybe a dozen people in line waiting to vote. It is entirely possible that place will log 1,000 votes before the deal finally goes down.


William Rivers Pitt

5:20 p.m. EST: It’s quittin’ time for much of Boston, and the late surge of voting before the polls close at 8:00 p.m. has begun. A sample of local press coverage at the top of the hour:

The Boston Globe: “Light snow has not discouraged heavy traffic at polling places. In Boston, nearly 82,000 people, or about 23 percent of registered voters, had cast ballots by 3 p.m., a pace that is well more than double that during the primary last month. Other cities and towns experienced similar waves of voters. Lines formed at a polling place in Somerville, and traffic backed up at Bates Elementary School in Wellesley, with cars spilling onto Elmwood Road. In two Quincy precincts at the Lodge of Elks, nearly 1,000 people — or about 25 percent of voters — cast ballots by 1 p.m.”

The Boston Herald: “It’s all about health care and salvaging President Barack Obama’s agenda for Martha Coakley voters at the polls today, while Brown voters say they’re high on his ‘chutzpah’ and on a mission to end one-party rule in Washington, D.C. Brown, a Wrentham Republican state senator, has promised he’ll be the 41st vote to shoot down the health care reform package under debate in Congress if he wins the seat formerly held by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in today’s special election. The prospect of a challenge to Democratic supremacy in D.C. has electrified parts of the electorate. But the threat it poses to the president’s agenda has galvanized other voters, bringing them out to cast ballots for Coakley – despite their tepid views of the state Attorney General’s campaign.”

Worcester Gazette & Telegram: With Election Day more than half over, supporters of candidates in a race that observers believe is neck and neck were confident their side will prevail. Polls across the state opened at 7 a.m. for the special Senate election to fill the seat held by the late Edward M. Kennedy. Democrat Martha Coakley, Republican Scott Brown and Joseph L. Kennedy, who is not related to the late Mr. Kennedy and who is running as an independent, are vying for the seat. Ms. Coakley, the state’s attorney general, was largely considered a shoo-in for the seat before Mr. Brown, a state senator from Wrentham, gained momentum in recent weeks, showing in some polls a slight advantage.

I will be leaving soon for the Coakley event in the Back Bay Sheraton. Keep a close eye here after 7:00 p.m. for updates from inside the room.

William Rivers Pitt

3:21 p.m. EST: Just visited the main branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, one of the large-volume polling stations in the city. There was a steady stream of foot traffic in and out of the voting area, and three different ballot scanners were whirring away.

I checked the number of votes each machine had tabulated since 7:00 a.m. this morning: 592, 586, 582 respectively, totalling 1,760. The poll workers refused to comment on whether or not turnout was high, average or low, but they were busy, and it is all but certain the numbers today are higher than they were during the primary.

I also spoke to two people about the election. The first was a man named David, who described himself as an unemployed volunteer for Brown. He was standing outside the library in the cold rain holding a sodden “Brown” sign. “There are many reasons I voted for Brown,” he said. “He will stop Obamacare and get everyone back to the table on health care to do this right. Second, I want them to focus on tort reform. But my number one reason is to stop that unconstitutional health care bill. I believe Brown has characher. His core values are mine. Low taxes, less intrusive government, basically the Reagan platform. He believes in not giving terrorists our hard-fought constitutional rights and making us pay for it. Coakley wants to do that.”

I also spoke to Eric, who works in the hospitality industry. “I haven’t voted yet but will do so after work,” he said. “I’m voting for Coakley even though I hated all the ads because I think she’ll keep the spirit of Kennedy for the next two years. She also espouses a lot of the beliefs I have, and besides, I find Brown to be kind of smarmy.”

The rain is slacking off. More to follow, stay tuned.

William Rivers Pitt

1:30 p.m. EST: The voters speak.

Andrew, a service industry worker: “I’m registered as an Independent voter, haven’t voted yet, but I plan to after work. I’m leaning towards Brown, but I’ve been reading a lot about both candidates, and haven’t really made up my mind.”

Phil, an IT worker: “I have not yet voted, but intend to at the end of the day. I intend to preserve the Democratic Party’s representation. Personally, I think it would be a crime to back up Ted Kennedy’s legacy by electing a right-wing teabagger.”

Adam, a chef in a small restaurant: “I won’t be able to vote this time because I’m stuck at work, but I pray that everyone votes for Coakley, especially since we’ll never elect a third-party candidate.”

Suzi, a small business owner: “I’m voting for Coakley because she’ll watch our back. I’m definitely not for the rich getting richer, and I think Martha will help us with that. This is a hugely important election, so I’m leaving work early to vote.”

Mariah, a service indusry employee: “I’m voting for Martha Coakley. My reasoning is kind of weak, because I haven’t paid that much attention honestly. I’m concerned about health care and a bunch of other issues. I guess the main reason is because my brother is voting for her, he follows politics way more than I do, so I’m following his lead. I usually don’t vote in local elections, but this one is important.”

Personal observation: if Coakley wins this race, she’ll have Brown and the GOP to thank for it. The Democrats have no visible presence in this city on election day – no signs, no GOTV that I’ve seen – so voter turnout will be driven by the GOP raising the election’s visibility and making this a national story. You wouldn’t know a Democrat was in an election today from walking the rainy streets of Boston.

William Rivers Pitt

1:12 p.m. EST: I have ventured out into the sleet and snow to do some person-on-the-street interviews with voters, and to check out turnout levels at various polling places. For what it’s worth, the city is a skating rink, but the snow and sleet is turning to rain, so hopefully the slippery sidewalks and roads will cease to be treacherous soon.

Also FYI: I got press credentials for the Coakley party in the Sheraton Back Bay, and will be reporting from inside the room after 5:00 p.m. PDT, so stay tuned.

Voter interviews coming soon.

William Rivers Pitt

12:04 p.m. EST: Hat-tip to Talking Points Memo for flagging this report from local CBS news affiliate WBZ Boston:

“Voter Turnout Appears High For Brown-Coakley Race: In contrast to the light turnout for the party primaries last month, there are already signs of a heavy turnout. A line of cars stretched for nearly a half-mile from the gymnasium at North Andover High School. Some drivers turned around in exasperation. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin told WBZ he expects about 40-percent of voters to turn out for the special election. Galvin said about 800,000 came out for the primaries and he believes that should double to 1.6 million based on the intense interest in this campaign.”

William Rivers Pitt

11:15 a.m. EST: Just returned from casting my ballot.

My polling place is located in a funky confluence of three different Boston neighborhoods and about a dozen different demographics. Back Bay, the South End and Roxbury come together literally right outside my doorstep – the cable company thinks I’m in the South End, but the electric company says I’m in Roxbury – so the neighborhood is an interesting collection of diversity: rich White people, poor and middle class White people, poor and middle class Black and Hispanic people, a smattering of Asian people, a pile of students from Northeastern, and the largest enclave of GLBT voters outside of Provincetown.

My polling place is two blocks away, located in the first floor of a public housing building. As I approached the building, my heart sank. In every other election I’ve voted in this place, the sidewalk outside the door was thronged with sign-holders and advocates for various candidates. This morning, however, there was nobody outside, and only a lone Coakley sign nailed to a telephone poll.

Things looked even more grim when I went inside. The polling station was all but deserted; one man in a wheelchair, a couple, myself and my wife were the only voters present. But when I spoke to the officer stationed next to the ballot scanning device, I was pleasantly surprised. According to him, the volume of voters that morning was far above average, and way, way above the number of people who turned out for the Senate primary election.

The scanner proved this out. After I fed my ballot into the machine, the counter at the top read 330, which meant 329 people had been there to vote before me. It was 10:30 a.m. EST. I voted a little after 4:00 p.m. in the primary, and remember very clearly that the ballot count on the machine was only 125. To have tripled that count before noon means turnout is very good so far, at least in my little corner of this town.

In a little while, I’m going to head out to some of the larger polling stations in the city, and will also be conducting some man/woman-in-the-street interviews.

It’s still snowing.

William Rivers Pitt

10:00 a.m. EST: Lost in all the brouhaha over the Democratic and Republican candidates for Kennedy’s seat is the third person in the mix. It is no small irony that the Libertarian candidate in the race, Joseph Kennedy, bears the same name as the father of the Senator who formerly held the seat. Candidate Kennedy has made just enough noise in the race to potentially be a deciding factor, a situation he apparently revels in.

“Independent U.S. Senate candidate Joseph L. Kennedy predicted he’ll be the kingmaker in a close race tomorrow,” reports the Boston Herald this morning, “saying he’ll likely throw the election to upstart Republican state Sen. Scott Brown. ‘He wouldn’t have a win without me,’ said Kennedy, a Libertarian running as an unenrolled candidate, adding he expects to draw voters from Democrat Martha Coakley…Even though he acknowledged his support could be enough to keep Coakley from overtaking Brown, Kennedy bristled at being called a spoiler. Rather, he sees himself as an instrument of change. ‘If they lose by the margin of votes I get, maybe next time the Democrats will find a different candidate,’ Kennedy crowed.”

Stay tuned.

William Rivers Pitt

9:08 am EST: It’s snowing in Boston.

The polls in Massachusetts have been open for two hours, but it looks as if the flakes have been coming down for longer than that. The Brown-Coakley election to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat will ultimately swing on a number of factors – get-out-the-vote organization, general voter turnout, party enthusiasm, independent voters – but the snow might wind up being the biggest of them all.

The gloomy weather matches the mood of many Coakley supporters here and nationwide. GOP candidate Scott Brown has surged more than 30 points in the last few weeks, and in certain circles, the blame game is already beginning to shape up.

“Yesterday, I drove the length of Blue Hill Ave. and counted exactly two Martha Coakley signs,” writes Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen. “One of them was on a fence next to the Roxbury Energy Gas station, on the corner of Moreland Street. The sign wasn’t properly fastened. It flapped in the wind, revealing a ‘Mike Flaherty for Mayor’ sign underneath. If Martha Coakley loses today, it won’t be because she didn’t put up enough signs on Blue Hill Ave. It’ll be because she failed to convince enough of the people who put up the Obama signs on Blue Hill Ave. and a lot of other avenues across Massachusetts that Obama’s ability to get anything done depends on her winning the election.”

Nothing is certain, of course. The polls are all over the place, and a late GOTV frenzy by the Democrats might be enough to put Coakley over the top and avoid a potentially humiliating and disastrous defeat tonight, but that remains to be seen. I have to get some coffee in me, and then I’ll be heading out into the city to see what’s what.

William Rivers Pitt

9:00 am EST: Three weeks ago, hardly anyone outside of Massachusetts was aware that a special election was being held on January 19th to fill Edward M. Kennedy’s senate seat. Today, the election is the biggest story in the news besides the catastrophe in Haiti. Today, the voters in Massachusetts will cast their ballots. The two main candidates – Republican state senator Scott Brown and Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley – find themselves in a nip-and-tuck race on this final day. The polls are all over the place, snow is expected, and turnout will ultimately decide the whole thing.

I live in downtown Boston, and will be covering the election all day. I will be reporting on local news coverage, visiting polling places throughout the city, and talking to people on the street about who they voted for and why. A great many things hang in the balance with this election – Obama’s health care reform legislation, the Democrat’s super-majority in the Senate, and the final legacy of Ted Kennedy – so check in here throughout the day and night for updates and analysis.

William Rivers Pitt