USA Today reports on the ripple effect of this week's retirement announcements by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.: The "[t]wo Senate retirements have focused Democrats like a laser on their growing November election challenges, but a more pressing contest is less than two weeks away in an unlikely place: Massachusetts." Democrats are favored to retain the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, but Republicans "have increasingly touted the Jan. 19 special election as an opportunity for an upset." And if that scenario plays out, "it could have an immediate impact on the Democrats' struggle to get health care reform legislation passed. A GOP gain in Massachusetts would sink the Democrats in the Senate below the filibuster-resistant 60-40 majority they now hold, with the help of two independents, and leave any compromise between House and Senate versions of the health care bill vulnerable to being blocked by Senate Republicans. ... In addition, the prospect of ending the Democrats' filibuster-resistant majority in the middle of the health care debate could turn the Massachusetts election into a proxy vote on the Democrats' health reform plan" (Raasch, 1/6).
Meanwhile, the two candidates in the race to replace Kennedy are focusing on the health reform bill to highlight their differences, Politico reports. Senate hopeful "Scott Brown is framing himself as the GOP's last hope to stop Democratic health care legislation, an approach that could provide both parties with an early glimpse at the political resonance of the issue." Brown, a state senator, says he'll use his vote if he's elected to stop health care reform. His opponent is Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat. Brown has proposed a bill in the state assembly that is designed to "control costs in the state's health care system by reviewing mandated insurance coverages," Politico reports. "Brown's bill calls for allowing people to purchase insurance coverage that better suits their personal medical needs. Coakley immediately blasted Brown's effort, saying it would reduce needed coverage for women and seniors while only minimally driving costs down" (Taylor, 1/7).