Jan. 19, 2010 -- On the eve of President Obama's one-year anniversary in office, voters in a key blue state are headed to the polls in what could be a game-changing election for Democrats and Republicans.
Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown are going head-to-head in a pivotal fight for the Senate seat that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy occupied for 46 years. And even though he is not on the ballot, Obama faces the prospect of a significant defeat if Brown wins, a reality for which Democrats are bracing themselves.
In an e-mail pitch, the president today urged the party's Organizing for America supporters to hit the phones for Coakley.
"The polls are still open, the choice has not been made and you still have a crucial role to play by calling voters in Massachusetts," he wrote. "In a low-turnout special election like this one, every single voter counts. In a race as close as this one, no matter how many voters you call, you could tip the balance."
Obama's entire domestic agenda could be on the line in the special election, experts said.
"I think this race has really stirred the passions of people across the country," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said on "Good Morning America" today. "This is a race that matters to Democrats across the country because the president's domestic agenda really requires Democrats across that state to come out today, to show their support and back this candidate."
Brown, 50, is an outspoken critic of Democrats' health care overhaul efforts and has vowed to vote against the bill, if elected.
Brown's win would mean Senate Democrats will lose the 60-seat majority they now enjoy and that they need to avoid a Republican filibuster of the health care bill.
"It's not true that Brown is stalling. In fact, the Democrat is cratering," Republican strategist Mary Matalin said on "GMA."
"He [Obama] was very negative attacking state Senator Brown," she added. "There's a road map here that follows on the really big losses of the true blue New Jersey and a new blue Virginia for Democrats."
Some Democrats are still pinning their hopes on Coakley, saying that her last-minute campaign push could turn the tide.
"Scott Brown has run a remarkable campaign for a Republican in the Bay state, but there's no question that the Democrats are now anxious to win this seat," Brazile said. "I think Democrats will churn out their voters and shock the Republicans that we're not going to send another no-vote to Washington, D.C."
If he wins, Brown, a lawyer and former model, could be sworn in as early as Jan. 29, putting the Democrats' health care agenda at risk. For Republicans, Brown's win could spell a big victory on health care.
"If he's in there, we can go back to the drawing board and we can get those kinds of reforms that people want," Matalin said, adding that for Obama, it's been "a year of living dangerously."
"He has driven his party into a brick wall on all of these issues across the board," she added, and compared to Clinton, who Matalin said paid attention to what Americans wanted, "this one seems determined to do quite the opposite."
Americans' views on health care have stayed stagnant since August.
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today, 51 percent of Americans said they oppose health care overhaul efforts, with only 44 percent in favor.
At its peak, in September and again in November, 30 percent of Americans "strongly" backed the proposed changes. With the plan still undergoing modifications, that has dropped to 22 percent, a new low. Substantially more, 39 percent, are strongly opposed, a number that's held steadier.
Martha Coakley vs. Scott Brown
There are two things in this race that Democrats and Republicans can both agree on. One, they have never seen a Senate election this intense in Massachusetts, and, two, the stakes could not possibly be higher.
It's not health care alone that worries Democrats. Brown's win could put Obama's entire agenda at risk, including his push on climate change, regulatory legislation and banking industry overhaul. There has so far been little or no bipartisanship on such major issues.
Obama himself acknowledged that in his stump speech for Massachusetts Attorney General Coakley, 56.
"A lot of these measures are going to rest on one vote in the U.S. senate," the president said in Boston Sunday.
In a race that has pulled in the president and Democrats and Republicans from across the country, Coakley's supporters worked the phones up until the last minute. She even unveiled a TV ad Monday featuring Obama's pep rally for her.
Brown also worked the crowds. His popularity in part has been because he has tapped into voter anger and anxiety over the economy.
"Call it anger, call it frustration, call it sadness at the way things are going," Brown told ABC News.
Brown said he is an independent Republican, although he would not say how he would vote differently than Republicans in Washington.
"I'm not going to focus on what's happened in the past," he said. "I'm going to focus on what I have an ability to deal with in the future."
Some people have come from as far away as Washington state to cast their ballots.
Losing the seat to Republicans would be a big blow to the Obama administration and Democrats. That pressure was evident in Coakley's campaigns, which featured Obama, former president Bill Clinton and even Kennedy's widow, Vicki.
Presidential prestige is also at risk. Obama campaigned in New Jersey for governor Jon Corzine and in Virginia for gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds, but both lost. Obama won in every county in Massachusetts in 2008, and a loss for Coakley today could spell trouble for the president.
Special elections do not usually tend to draw large crowds, but despite predictions of severe weather in some parts of the state, a high voter turnout is expected. Polls will close at 8 p.m.
Democrats in Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts say they are embarrassed that the race seems so close. But heading into the election, that embarrassment has turned into fear.