Posted Jan 19, 2010 @ 01:07 PM
Last update Jan 19, 2010 @ 02:21 PM

BOSTON —Voters thronged to the polls in Massachusetts Tuesday in a special election Republicans hope will be a national game-changer, slowing down President Barack Obama’s agenda and loosening the Democratic grip on the U.S. Senate.

As dawn broke in the frosty Northeast, the GOP publicly relished the possibility that a previously obscure state senator, Scott Brown, could wrest the election from Democrat Martha Coakley, considered the overwhelming favorite until just a few days ago.

At 11:45 a.m., 501 people had voted in Precinct 5 in Scituate, an unusually large number for that time of day. Big, wet snowflakes were falling and people scurried through the slush into the gym at Scituate High School, the only polling place in town. Twenty to 25 Brown supporters and about the same number of Coakley supporters lined the road into the high school parking lot, holding banners and signs and waving to people driving in.

At mid-day, voters were heavily in favor of Republican Scott Brown in a small sampling of a dozen people at two precincts in Weymouth and Quincy. Just two of the 12 said they voted for Democrat Martha Coakley.

”It’s time to really have a change,” said Catherine Moran, 44, at The Ralph Talbot School in Weymouth, explaining her support for Brown.

She particularly didn’t like the health care reform proposal, saying the Obama plan supported by Coakley would give the government “too much control over our health care.”

In Quincy, at the Elks Lodge on Quarry Street, insurance agent Daniel Flynn, 46, was another Brown vote. He said that “as a small business owner, the cost of health care is already extraordinarily expensive.” Flynn did not like the Obama health care reform plan because of the costs and said his other big issue was “terrorism. “I don’t feel we are doing enough. As the father of five children, I don’t feel secure.”

One voter backing Coakley was Fred Hackett, 82, of Weymouth. His biggest concern, he said, was “the health care issue. (If Coakley loses) it looks like it would go down the drain.”

At the two precincts, there were several supporters holding signs for Scott Brown and none for Coakley.

In contrast to the light turnout for the party primaries last month, Coakley, Brown and independent candidate Joe Kennedy expected a heavy turnout following the national attention thrust upon their race.

A steady stream of voters filed into Furnace Brook School in Marshfield to cast ballots, with about 50 people from the three campaigns holding signs and the school parking lot near full. At 11 a.m. the turnout was more like a general rather than special election, with voters buzzing about the candidates and their choices outside as they entered and left.

Before Hull Town Clerk Janet Bennett even opened the doors of Memorial Middle School at 7 a.m., voters were already lined up outside the doors, braving the slick roads and light morning snowfall.

Within the first 45 minutes of the polls being open, Bennett said more than 200 people had already cast their vote.

Standing on the corner of the side street next to the school were a handful of supporters for both Coakley and Brown.

Standing on the corner of the side street next to the school were a handful of supporters for both Coakley and Brown.

“I think that the policies that the state and the country is going through is something that I’m not comfortable with,” Jim Mellon, chairman of the Hull Republican Town Committee, said, clutching his Brown sign and waving to passing motorists. “And I’d like to see more participation of the people and not ideologically-driven agendas.”

Sitting beside Mellon was the chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee, Mary Curtiss, surrounded by four supporters holding Coakley signs.

“I really believe in health care for all people,” Curtiss said. “I had a neighbor this summer who died of cancer. If she had lived somewhere else in this country, she not only would have been dealing with chemotherapy and the awesome task of dying, but she wouldn’t have been afraid of being out on the street because of medical bankruptcy. That shouldn’t happen to anybody, anywhere in our country, and Martha Coakley will make sure that it doesn’t.”

Speaking to reporters after she voted early Tuesday at an elementary school near her home, Coakley voiced confidence that she would win, saying “we’ve been working every day.”

She said “we’re paying attention to the ground game. … Every game has its own dynamics. … We’ll know tonight what the results are.” The polls close at 8 p.m.

Brown drove himself to the polls in the green pickup truck that came to symbolize his workmanlike campaign. Pulling into an elementary school in his hometown of Wrentham, the truck had registered 201,171 miles on its odometer.

Brown played down the import of becoming the 41st Republican vote to uphold a filibuster, telling reporters, “It would make everybody the 41st senator, and it would bring fairness and discussion back to the equation.”

Obama campaigned personally for Coakley on Sunday, urging Democrats to get out and vote, and he also appeared in an eleventh-hour TV commercial on behalf of the attorney general.

“I think it’s been a fascinating process to watch unfold,” Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele said in an interview as the polls opened. “A year ago, the landscape was very different than we see it today. … The American people have begun to take charge in these elections.”

A Suffolk University survey taken Saturday and Sunday showed Brown with double-digit leads in three communities the poll identified as bellwethers: Gardner, Fitchburg and Peabody. But internal statewide polls for both sides showed a dead heat.