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President Obama tried to breathe some populist fire into Massachusetts' Attorney General Martha Coakley's flagging campaign to fill the seat of the late Edward Kennedy, telling a rally of 1,500 supporters in Boston that key parts of the Democrats' agenda are going to come down to one vote in the Senate and saying, "If you were fired up in the last election, I need you more fired up in this election."
Obama's foray into the senate race, which will be decided in a special election Tuesday, not only puts his political prestige on the line but is a test of whether he can still energize Democrats the way he did in 2008. A series of recent polls have shown Coakley's once large lead shrinking and some even have her Republican opponent, Scott Brown, running ahead of her.
Obama repeatedly took aim at Brown, particularly using the metaphor of the Brown's trademark black pickup truck which he drove around the state to campaign.
"He's driving his truck around the commonwealth...he says that he gets you, he'll fight for you, he'll be an independent voice," Obama said, adding: "You got to look under the hood."
Obama noted that, as a state legislator, Brown voted with Republicans 96 percent of the time and said that it was "hard to imagine he's going to be independent from Republican agenda ...He's going to do the same thing in Washington."
Obama invoked Kennedy's memory and told the crowd that they had the "unique and special responsibility" to pick a successor in his tradition.
The rally was interrupted for a stretch when an anti-abortion heckler repeatedly shouted at Obama, but Obama waited out the protest.
Obama depicted Coakley as someone who had worked herself up from modest means and became "a lawyer not to cash in but to give hardworking people a fair shake." He said, "Martha knows the struggles Massachusetts working families face because she's lived those struggles."
As he did earlier in the day during services at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in the nation's capitol, Obama acknowledged the public frustration that has built during the long economic downturn.
"People are frustrated and they're angry and they have every right to be," he said. "I understand because progress is slow."
Republicans have seen an opportunity in that public mood, coming off victories in two gubernatorial races last year and smelling the possibility of victory in this race.
"You know how politics is. At times like this, there are always some who are eager to exploit that pain and anger...Some people think the best way to solve problems is to demonize others.
Obama ticked off a series of key policy initiatives whose fate has yet to be decided, and asked the crowd after each, who they could count on to do the right thing on each issue, to which they each time chanted "MARTHA."
"A lot of these measures are going to depend on one vote in the United States Senate," Obama said. "So I'd think long and hard in getting into that truck with Martha's opponent."
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