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Senate race no laugher

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Scott Brown and Martha Coakley squaring off for the Senate seat once held by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Last year’s special election in which Brown eked out a surprising win over Coakley may have ended with the Democratic nominee being a “Saturday Night Live” punchline but a new poll of Massachusetts voters shows a rematch may be no joke. And that could make national Democrats, already fretting about what they perceive as a weak field against a vulnerable Republican, a bit nervous.

North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling shows Brown leading Coakley by a 49-40 margin. But the poll shows that Coakley is the only contender not trailing by double-digits. Rep. Michael Capuano, who lost the primary to Coakley and is trying to keep his profile up as he ponders another run, trails Brown by a 10-point margin, 48-38, with Rep. Ed Markey showing the same gap, behind at 47-37.

Three announced candidates, City Year cofounder Alan Khazei, activist Robert Massie and Newton Mayor Setti Warren, trail by 19 to 25 points.

Coakley, who was reelected to the AG’s post last fall, is maintaining in public and through spokesmen that she has no interest in leaving her job (“I have said voters told me twice last year they want me to be Attorney General,” Coakley has joked several times.) But the numbers in the poll are intriguing.

Keep in mind that Brown won by a 52-48 margin in a special election in mid-January that had a 54 percent turnout. The 2012 election will be with the backdrop of a higher turnout presidential election and President Obama remains very popular in Massachusetts. Among Obama’s voters, Coakley beats out Brown 60-26. Coakley also shows slightly better than Brown among some key demographic groups such as women, younger voters, and minorities.

Coakley has little money in her federal campaign account compared to Brown, who is sitting on $8.5 million to kick-start his reelection. But she has no debt and showed the ability to raise nearly $9.5 million in last year’s election. She is the highest profile name of all the potential opponents, save MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who continually gets thrown into the mix despite declaring no interest. And Coakley, who is not up for reelection until 2014, would not have to risk her job, unlike Capuano or Markey.

If Coakley does decide to jump back in, don’t laugh.

                                                                                                                                                                     --JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Gov. Deval Patrick may have some tips for President Obama on how to turn around your approval ratings.

Less is more? The DiMasi defense rests after calling just three witnesses. Peter Gelzinis wonders how DiMasi’s silver-tongued lawyers will explain away the $965,000 in payments prosecutors trotted before the jury. The Herald speculates that Alan Dershowitz’s recent appearance in court means DiMasi and company are already gearing up for an appeals fight. Jim Braude has on Globe columnist Brian McGrory to discuss the trial.

State House leaders are nearing an agreement on casino gambling legislation that would allow one racino license.

Radio Boston hosts a discussion about the controversial Secure Communities program. The Lowell Sun, in an editorial, criticizes Gov. Deval Patrick’s flip-flop.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A Fall River marina owned by the City Council president did not pay water and sewer charges for four years after the Water and Sewer Department inexplicably deactivated the account but kept the services flowing.

David Bernstein examines Boston’s strangely quiet off-year city council race.

The Bay State Banner gets behind the headlines on the recent troubles at Carson Beach.

The Lowell Sun, in the first article in a two-part series, reports on rising property taxes.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

US Rep. Anthony Weiner may find that life in Congress won’t be any better if he stays. US Rep. Niki Tsongas is the lone member of the Bay State’s congressional delegation calling on Weiner to resign.

Slate does not wish a happy 10th birthday to the Bush tax cuts.

Another day, another ratings agency threatening to downgrade the US’s credit rating.

ELECTION 2012

No waffling here: Mitt Romney sticks to his guns on climate change.

Plenty of waffling here: Rick Perry might run for president. Then again, he might not.

Karl Rove provides a sneak peek at election-season attacks on the White House’s handling of Medicare.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

J-1 visa workers in Orleans complain about rental conditions.

EDUCATION

Time magazine examines why enrollment in private K-12 schools is declining.

The UMass board of trustees gave final approval yesterday to a 7.5 percent increase in student fees. The increase, which will add $826 to an undergraduate’s annual tab, has prompted concerns that the cost of attending the state’s public university is getting out of reach for Massachusetts families.  UMass trustees Phil Johnston, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party, and Mike Fox, the student member of the board, discuss the financing challenge facing UMass in CommonWealth’s latest installment of Face to Face, our new webcam-based video conversation feature.

US News & World Report is out with its college tuition surveys and among the top 10 private schools in cost, the usual suspects from Massachusetts were not on the list, although the Bay State did have two “winners.  Alas, no schools from Massachusetts made the list of the 10 least expensive private colleges.

The  Springfield Republican reports on the “tornado class” graduation at Monson High with Gov. Deval Patrick in attendance.  WBUR also reports on the celebration.

Is the value of an expensive college degree being oversold?  No, says Kevin Carey, emphatically, in The New Republic.

Boston College has gone to court to try to stop British officials from gaining access to confidential oral history interviews BC has with former Northern Ireland paramilitary fighters.

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA’s Red Line and Orange Line trains are in rough shape, and things will only get worse, the Globe reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The National Review says the reason many Democrats are backing the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011 -- or NAT GAS -- that gives concessions and subsidies to the natural gas industry is that it contains a backdoor entry for the Environmental Protection Agency to finally get regulatory control of greenhouse gas emissions.

The developer of a two-turbine wind project in Wareham is seeking help from the attorney general’s office after a town meeting vote to change a zoning bylaw put his plan in jeopardy.

The snow pile in Framingham isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

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