By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 1/19/2010 2:29:15 PM ET 2010-01-19T19:29:15

Claim: The Massachusetts Senate election will be a referendum on the Democrats' insurance overhaul.

On Tuesday, Massachusetts voters are choosing a senator to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who died last year. Republican Scott Brown, a state senator, is vying with Democrat Martha Coakley, the state attorney general, and with independent Joseph Kennedy, (no relation to Sen. Kennedy). No Republican has won a Senate seat in Massachusetts in 38 years. But polls show a tight race between Brown and Coakley. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that the election "is, in effect, a referendum on the national health care bill which the Democrats, in secret, are trying to work out now." He said, "If it's unpopular in Massachusetts, it's unpopular everywhere."

Fact or fiction?
A little of both. Other than an actual referendum -- a ballot initiative on which voters directly have their say -- no election is strictly speaking a referendum on one issue. In his campaign, Brown emphasized issues other than health insurance, such as cutting taxes and not giving constitutional protection to alleged terrorists, as well as his opposition to the insurance bill. But Brown said flatly, "I would be the 41st vote (against moving to a final vote on the Democrats' bill). I would actually stop it." Democrats seem to agree: "If Scott Brown wins, it'll kill the health bill," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said. Asked in a Suffolk University poll last week about the bill, Massachusetts voters were evenly split, with 47 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed. But 61 percent said the nation couldn't afford to pay for the Democrats' insurance reform.

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