Reports from Massachusetts indicate unusually high voter turnout in today’s special election to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) – that is, unusually high for a special election and looking more like general presidential election turnout levels. In this race, it’s hard to say what high turnout means in terms of who wins – Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) or State Sen. Scott Brown (R). Few expected Republicans to have a chance in the Bay State and the race only popped into national news as Brown began to gain ground in polls, eventually pulling ahead in a number of surveys. Heading into Election Day, Brown seemed to have enough momentum to win, or at least to come closer than anyone would have predicted even a few weeks ago.
Clearly, there are local dynamics and policy fights playing into voter sentiment today but the issue that has dominated the national coverage of this race is health care, and it’s worth remembering that there’s probably no other state in the country where health care reform is more in the minds of voters. Former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney signed the first major state-level legislation to attempt universal health care coverage in April 2006. And this issue was pushed by Senator Kennedy during his entire career in the Senate.
A Brown victory, or even a small victory margin for Coakley, should send a clear message to the White House and congressional leaders in Washington that it is time to start over on health care and get it right. If Massachusetts voters are not overwhelmingly convinced that the current health care legislation is important enough to ensure the Democratic majority in the Senate has the 60th vote they need to pass the bill, it is unlikely to have support from the majority of voters in other states. (Lest we forget, the 2010 mid-terms are less than 10 months away and like it or not, health care will be a key issue in the minds of voters everywhere.)
Manufacturers, too, are concerned that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is so fundamentally flawed that we need to “start over” to have a meaningful discussion about reform. The NAM is a member of a broad alliance of business and other groups that want to do health care right, Start Over! You can see the coalition’s membership and TV spots about the Senate health care legislation at http://www.employersforahealthyeconomy.org/.
Teresa DeRoco Cupit is Assistant Vice President, External Affairs, for the NAM.