Discussing the special Senate election in true-blue Massachusetts on the Times' "Caucus" blog, as voting got underway Tuesday morning, top Times political reporters Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny claimed the Mass. race "too close to call."
It ended up a five-point victory, 52%-47% with previously unknown Mass. State Senator Scott Brown triumphing over Democrat and former heavy favorite Martha Coakley, giving the G.O.P. a vital 41st vote and the ability to mount a filibuster against Obama-care and other liberal legislation.
While admitting a Brown victory would be a crushing short-term blow to Obama's legislative prospects, both reporters hedged on the long-term significance of a Republican win. That's not how Nagourney has treated similar victories by Democrats in the past. In June 2006 Nagourney treated a narrower-than-expected victory in a special election by California Rep. Brian Bilbray as a resounding triumph for the Democrats. The headline: "Narrow Victory by G.O.P. Signals Fall Problems."
The campaign, quite simply, is too close to call. So as we waited for the day to unfold, we sat down for a conversation: Politics from A to Z, the first of many back-and-forth exchanges we'll have as we travel across the country this year.
Nagouney was still seeing chances for Coakley on Tuesday morning, putting faith in the Democratic machine to gin up turnout.
I don't see how she can without independent women voters. But the other thing to watch is whether Organizing for America - the outgrowth of the Obama presidential campaign's get-out-the-vote effort - can, combined with the Massachusetts Democratic organization, turn out base Democratic voters. That's one inherent advantage that she has over Mr. Brown. The word on the street here is if Ms. Coakley can keep it close - and polls this morning are all over the place, though none have her in the lead - a good get-out-the-vote operation could bring her across the finish line.
Nagourney, who historically is extremely sensitive to pro-Democratic/anti-Republican tremors among voters, questioned the import of the Democratic Party's potential defeat in Massachusetts, just as he questioned the significance of G.O.P. wins in the governors' races last November in Virginia and New Jersey.
None of this, by the way, is to take away from the political skill of Mr. Brown. If he does win, what meaning does the victory hold a month from now, much less 11 months from now, in an era when news cycles seem to be measured in minutes, not days?
Zeleny also suggested a Brown win wouldn't necessarily mean the end of Republican troubles and suggested Brown was lacking in gravitas:
This is the opening volley of a sure-to-be-fascinating midterm election season. The results from Tuesday night will be analyzed - yes, overanalyzed - and it would be premature to suggest that a Republican victory will automatically be a sign of good fortunes for the party in the rest of the year. A lot can - and will - happen between now and the rest of the primary and general election battles for House, Senate and governor's races.
But you can be sure that if Mr. Brown wins, it will be a punch in the stomach for Democrats, who are already freaked out by what they fear could be a dismal political year. But before we get ahead of ourselves, it will be interesting to see if Mr. Brown can capitalize on the sentiment of an angry electorate and turn the enthusiasm created by his guy-next-door, I-drive-a-pickup-truck campaign, into real votes.