Supreme Court Ruling Polarizes Mass. Senate Race

Thursday's historic ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold key clauses of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will likely serve as a rallying point for both campaigns for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, according to political analysts.

Analysts said the court’s decision to maintain the health care law’s hotly-contested individual mandate could benefit Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, as she seeks to unseat Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, in this fall’s election.

"I think it politically helps any Democrat a little bit, including Elizabeth Warren," Harvard Law School professor Einer R. Elhauge said of the court's decision. "The argument that Obamacare was unconstitutional and overreaching, I think, goes away."

Analysts saw the court's ruling as a significant victory for President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats. With it, they said, comes a much-needed increase in political capital for the nation's left—capital that will likely extend to Warren, a supporter of the administration’s financial reforms and close political ally of the president.

For supporters of Senator Brown, the ruling could serve as a rallying cry in opposition to health care reform and in support of Brown.

"I think it's another stark contrast between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown," Democratic political consultant Mary Anne Marsh said shortly after the ruling.

With the law two years old and freshly affirmed by the court, Marsh said Brown will struggle to deliver the unified message against reform he was able to galvanize last time around. In 2010, Brown won the open U.S. Senate seat of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy '52-'54, one of the Senate’s foremost health care reform advocates.

"Scott Brown ran as the 41st vote against health care in the special election last time," Marsh said. "I don't think people will view that as well in 2012 as they did in 2010."

Still, Republican political consultant Todd Domke said he expects Brown will give significant attention to the issue in the coming months.

"Brown will use it to motivate his base, especially in fundraising with out-of-state conservatives," Domke wrote in an email. "[He] might be reluctant to make it a major point of attack. He doesn't want to seem too close to Romney on this issue since that would play into Warren's strategy of trying to depict him as just another Republican. But Brown realizes that he won this seat in the first place partly because of the unpopularity of Obamacare."

Brown released a statement opposing the ruling shortly after it was announced Thursday. He called the bill unaffordable and unwanted legislation.

"The federal health care law may be constitutional, but it is wrong for jobs and the economy. In Massachusetts, we had already dealt responsibly with the problem of our uninsured," Brown said. "All we got out of this massive new federal entitlement is higher taxes, cuts in Medicare, and additional debt at a time when we can least afford it."

What in other states is a straightforward boon for Democrats, is complicated by Massachusetts unusual history with health care reform, analysts said. Massachusetts was the first state to enact health care reform. It did so before the federal government, and under the leadership of now-Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. Then state-senator Brown was also in support of the reform.

Later in the day, Brown's campaign directed its criticism at Warren.

"Warren's single-payer, European-style, government-owned and operated health care scheme will make Obamacare look tame by comparison," Brown's campaign manager Jim Barnett wrote, implying a vote for Warren would only worsen an already bad situation.

The Warren camp lauded the court's decision in an email to supporters Thursday afternoon, calling the ruling a "great relief."

“This decision ensures that millions of children, seniors, and families will continue to benefit from health care reform,” Warren said. “By upholding this legislation, the Supreme Court has ensured that every American can get access to high quality, affordable health care and fair treatment from insurance companies."

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu.

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