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« Arkansas Democrat Snyder Retiring | Blog Home Page | Coleman Not Running For Governor »

The Week Ahead: Election En Mass.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born 81 years ago. Today we celebrate all of his and other Civil Rights leaders' accomplishments, which were made even more obvious last year when Barack Obama was sworn in as president. As we look back to the past, it's impossible not to wonder what the future holds -- specifically tomorrow's special election in Massachusetts and its impact on comprehensive health care reform in Congress.

** Politics: Polls clearly show the momentum in the Massachusetts Senate special election race quickly moving toward Republican Scott Brown, who just a couple weeks ago was still considered a longshot. A palpable shift in the mood of the country is on display as the seat held by Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy since 1952 (except for two years and some change) is in danger of going Republican.

The stakes are so high that President Obama himself went to Massachusetts Sunday. It's worth noting how health care seemed to be barely mentioned in his remarks, as instead he relied on the party's push on the so-called bank fee, which was just announced last week. Returning from the event, press secretary Robert Gibbs reaffirmed the belief of the White House that Coakley would win. "That was the theme of what this race has been, I think what the President will talk a lot about for the next year," he said.

If Brown wins, look for one major topic to be how soon he's sworn in. We've written about the potential delay Democrats could seek to take advantage of, which would then raise the question of whether they can still muster 60 votes needed to pass the bill quickly. A defeat for Democrats in Massachusetts of all places certainly would raise the possibility that one of the wavering votes -- Ben Nelson or Blanche Lincoln, perhaps -- feel pressure to change sides.

It's a bad mojo weekend for Democrats leading up to the vote, as there are fresh reminders of other defeats. Bob McDonnell (R) was sworn in as Virginia's governor Saturday. And as Massachusetts voters go to the polls Tuesday, New Jersey will see its new Republican governor, Chris Christie, take office.

** White House: What could make a Coakley loss so damning for the White House is the timing -- on the eve of the one-year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration. Just think back to the president's 100th day in office -- it came just after Arlen Specter switched parties and handed Democrats what, pending the Al Franken result being made official, would be their 60th vote. Now, if Brown wins, they'll lose that supermajority on another milestone day.

The White House is not marking the anniversary in any formal way. Monday, the president marks Martin Luther King Day with an event featuring African American seniors and their grandchildren. Thursday, a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors will visit the White House. On Friday, Obama heads to Ohio for another stop on his "White House to Main Street Tour."

** Capitol Hill: The Senate returns to official business Wednesday after a much-needed break. It seems like a year ago, but less than a month ago the senators gathered on the chamber floor Christmas Eve to vote on health care reform. It passed, and negotiations between the House, Senate and White House on a compromise bill has been in the works ever since.

A week ago, many Democrats in Congress still weren't taking the threat of a Republican win in Massachusetts seriously. Remember -- the big news last Monday was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's awkward comments about Obama's skin and speaking pattern. By the end of the week, however, the White House announced that the president would indeed be deployed to the Bay State, while Democratic leaders in Congress were trying to figure out a contingency plan in case they fell below 60 Democratic seats in the Senate. The Capitol awaits Tuesday's results.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.1 / Disapprove 44.5 (+4.6)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 26.3 / Disapprove 67.5 (-41.2)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.0

** In Case You Missed It: Three of the top four top seeds in the NFL playoffs -- AFC's Colts (1), and the NFC's Saints (1) and Vikings (2) -- all advanced to this weekend's NFC and AFC championship games, which will decide the Super Bowl contenders. Missing from that list: the San Diego Chargers, who were upset in the only competitive game of the weekend by the New York J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets. Those Jets only got into the playoffs thanks to the Colts pulling their starters in the second half of their Week 16 matchup. Now they'll get a test of the team at full strength for four quarters.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli