January 12, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Could an anti-gay Republican take Kennedy’s seat?

The race to succeed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in the U.S. Senate could be tightening up as one recent poll shows an anti-gay Republican running even with the pro-LGBT Democratic candidate.

A poll published Saturday by Public Policy Polling shows state Sen. Scott Brown, the GOP candidate vying to succeed Kennedy, one point ahead of Democratic nominee and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

In a poll of residents who planned to vote in the special election — which occurs Jan. 19 — Public Policy Polling found that 48 percent said they intended to vote for Brown, while 47 percent said they would vote for Coakley. Six percent of responders said they were undecided.

Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling, said in a statement that the poll shows the special election is “shaping up to be a potential disaster for Democrats.”

“Martha Coakley’s complacent campaign has put Scott Brown in a surprisingly strong position and she will need to step it up in the final week to win a victory once thought inevitable,” Debnam said.

Public Policy Polling’s poll speculated that Brown found strong support in an overwhelmingly “blue” state because of depressed Democratic interest in the election and because he’s favored by independent voters.

The poll could be an outlier. Another poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and published Sunday by the Boston Globe found Coakley had a 17-point lead over Brown. Fifty-three percent of responders said they would vote for her, while 36 percent said they intended to vote for Brown.

Neither Coakley’s campaign nor Brown’s campaign responded to DC Agenda’s requests for comment, but the candidates’ records significantly diverge on LGBT issues, particularly with regard to same-sex marriage.

In 2007, Brown voted in the state legislature for a failed state constitutional amendment that would have taken marriage rights away from gay couples in the first state in the country to allow same-sex marriage.

By comparison, Coakley supports same-sex marriage and as attorney general has been a proponent of federal recognition for married same-sex couples. Last year, she filed a lawsuit on behalf on the State of Massachusetts against the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that prohibits married same-sex couples from receiving the federal benefits of marriage.

The candidates’ campaign web sites also are markedly different in how they handle LGBT issues. Coakley’s site details how she supports legislation that would affect the LGBT community, such as legislative repeal of DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Her site additionally notes that as attorney general she has “aggressively prosecuted” hate crimes at the state level — including those against LGBT people — and that she in 2008 was the first statewide official to endorse state legislation that included gender expression and identity in Massachusetts discrimination and hate crimes laws.

Brown’s site lacks mention of issues specifically affecting LGBT people — with the exception of marriage. The site says that Brown believes marriage is between one man and woman and says, “States should be free to make their own laws in this area, so long at they reflect the people’s will as expressed through them directly, or as expressed through their elected representatives.”

Michael Mitchell, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats, said helping Coakley win the special election “couldn’t be more important” for LGBT people because a 60-seat Democratic majority in the Senate is needed to advance LGBT rights in Congress.

“I think that things are going to be a lot worse off if there’s 59 Democrats in the Senate instead of 60,” he said.

Noting that the election will determine who would succeed Kennedy —perhaps the greatest proponent of LGBT issues in the Senate — Mitchell said “it would be a strange world indeed” to replace the so-called Liberal Lion with a Republican like Brown.

Mitchell said Stonewall was “pulling out all the stops” to help Coakley win the election. He noted that the organization is sending out an e-mail blast to members across the country, urging them to contribute to Coakley’s campaign and participate in phone banking activities.

The local Stonewall chapter in Massachusetts, Mitchell said, is hosting an event where supporters can gather to do phone banking for Coakley.

Also backing Coakley in the special election is MassEquality, the statewide LGBT organization in Massachusetts. The organization endorsed Coakley in November.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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