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Attorney General, State Senator Top MA Primary

A Republican with a track record of winning in Democratic areas and a prosecutor seeking to become Massachusetts' first female senator will compete next month in a special election that could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Scott Brown, a state senator and Army reservist who in 1982 was named "America's Sexiest Man" by Cosmopolitan magazine won the Republican nomination Tuesday. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley topped a field of four Democrats.

They'll face off in a special election Jan. 19. Also on the ballot: a third-party candidate named Joseph Kennedy. He is no relation to Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose death in August triggered what will be the first major election in the new year.

For Democrats, holding onto the seat means keeping a 60-vote majority in the Senate, enough to stop a Republican filibuster.

"As the 41st senator, you can redirect the entire conversation," said Brown, 50. Coakley, 56, predicted the state will stick with its Democratic voting traditions but added, "No one ever takes anything for granted in politics."

The political and meteorological climate in which the election will be held is giving Republicans some hope of scoring an upset in one of the nation's most lopsidedly Democratic states.

"In a January election, anything can happen," says Ronald Kaufman, a political strategist for former president George H.W. Bush who now represents Massachusetts on the Republican National Committee. "People will be watching this closely."

On paper, it seems improbable that a seat held for 46 years by Kennedy, a liberal Democratic icon, could fall into Republican hands. Democrats hold a better than 4-to-1 ratio over Republicans in registration and control all 12 state seats in Congress.

On the other hand, more than half of the state's voters are registered as independents, and Republicans held the governorship for 16 years until 2007. The state's Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, is sinking in the polls; three state House speakers in a row resigned under a cloud of corruption charges, and the race is being held in the middle of winter. "The ones who go out and vote are going to be the ones most motivated to change things," state Senate Republican Leader Richard Tisei said.

The Jan. 19 contest "could be more competitive" than expected, said Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat. "Republicans tend to vote in special elections," Galvin said.

Taking the opposite view: David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Boston's Suffolk University, argued that the timing could disadvantage Republicans, who need independent voters to win in Massachusetts. "I question whether you'll see a big independent turnout on Jan. 19," he said.

Brown already has visited the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in Washington. "It's finally on their radar," Brown said. He's "not sure" whether the national party will put money into his race, but he's arguing vehemently that they should. "Shame on them if they don't. If I lost by 4 or 5 points, what kind of message does that send to people like me who are trying to fight the machine?"

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who chairs the NRSC, was non-committal. "We'll make that decision later," Cornyn said, adding: "We're not going to leave anything on the table."

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