- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BOSTON | Riding a populist tide of voter anger, Republican Scott Brown on Tuesday won the Senate seat held for 47 years by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, giving the GOP enough votes to frustrate President Obama’s health care reform plan — and perhaps his entire agenda.

Coming on Day 364 of the president’s first year in office, the come-from-behind victory stunned Democrats on Capitol Hill as they prepare to face voters in less than 10 months and served as a wake-up call to Mr. Obama, whose poll numbers have plummeted amid growing discontent over his agenda. Mr. Obama called the senator-elect shortly after his win to congratulate him.

“I bet they can hear this cheering all the way in Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Brown told elated supporters Tuesday night at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel. “They thought you were on board with all of their ambitions. They thought they owned your vote. They thought they couldn’t lose. But tonight, you — and you and you and you and you — have all set them straight.”

Mr. Brown’s opponent, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, conceded quickly, calling Mr. Brown a little more than an hour after polls closed at 8 p.m. Despite a last-minute campaign visit by Mr. Obama — who won the state in 2008 by a 27-point margin — the Democrats failed to persuade voters that she was the rightful heir to the Kennedy seat.

“I am heartbroken at the result, and I know that you are also, but I know that you will get up together and continue this fight even with this result tonight. There will be plenty of Wednesday-morning quarterbacking about what went right, what went wrong, and I know everyone — including me — will be brutally honest,” Mrs. Coakley told her supporters.

She said Mr. Obama called after she conceded and told her: “We can’t win them all.”

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Brown led Mrs. Coakley 51.9 percent to 47.1 percent. Turnout was heavy on a cold New England day with intermittent snow showers and freezing drizzle. Boston reported twice the primary turnout among early voters, while in western Massachusetts, voters waited in long lines, some for more than an hour. More than 2.2 million people voted, topping 50 percent of those registered and far above the 20 percent turnout in the Dec. 8 primary.

Even before the polls closed, infighting broke out among dispirited Democrats. Mrs. Coakley’s campaign blamed the Democratic National Committee and a team of high-level party operatives dispatched from Washington in the final frenetic days of the campaign, saying they engaged too late and did not offer financial support.

Emotions ran high at the Park Plaza, where hundreds of Brown supporters gathered. And the senator-elect told supporters that Democrats across the country ought to take a lesson from his victory.

“We are united by basic convictions that need only to be clearly stated to win a majority. If anyone still doubts that, in this next election season that’s about to begin, then let them look to Massachusetts,” he said to cheers.

“What happened in this election can happen all over America.”

Shortly after Mrs. Coakley conceded, the crowd broke out in chants of “Seat him now.” Democrats are in a final push on Capitol Hill to pass a health care bill, and Mr. Brown’s vote could prove crucial.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said in a statement that Mr. Brown would be seated “as soon as the proper paperwork has been received.”

“While Senator-elect Brown’s victory changes the political math in the Senate, we remain committed to strengthening our economy, creating good-paying jobs and ensuring all Americans can access affordable health care,” Mr. Reid said.

But Mr. Brown insisted that “we need to start fresh” on health care.

“One thing is clear, voters do not want the trillion-dollar health care bill that is being forced on the American people,” he said. “This bill is not being debated openly and fairly. It will raise taxes, it will hurt Medicare, it will destroy jobs, and run our nation deeper into debt.”

Trailing badly as recently as November, Mr. Brown, a three-term state senator little known outside of his district, successfully exploited the kind of voter anger first displayed last summer in congressional town-hall meetings and nationwide “tea party” protests.

Still, capturing Mr. Kennedy’s seat in one of the country’s most liberal states ranks as “the biggest political upset in the history of the United States Senate,” according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

Tuesday’s results reflected what many political analysts say was the astute campaign run by Mr. Brown and numerous campaign gaffes by Mrs. Coakley, who easily won a four-candidate Democratic primary.

Painting himself as a “regular guy” who drove a pickup truck, Mr. Brown’s mantra that the Kennedy seat was not owned by the Democrats, but was instead “the people’s seat,” caught his opponent’s campaign team flat-footed. While Democrats have a 3-1 voter registration edge over Republicans in the state, more than half of Bay State residents identify themselves as independents, and polls were showing they broke heavily for Mr. Brown.

The race quickly became a referendum on Mr. Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress, with a clear focus on “Obamacare.” Activists from the grass-roots tea party movement streamed into the state, and both parties dispatched teams of Washington operatives to oversee the campaigns as the polls continued to tighten. Millions of dollars also streamed into the state from outside, funding TV ads and robocalls as the race turned increasingly nasty.

Mr. Brown benefited from an experienced team of strategists, several from the 2008 presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, which ran a disciplined campaign focused on issues.

Although state Democrats mobilized an army of labor union members and the campaign machinery of statewide elected officials, Republicans tapped a groundswell of volunteers in the final weeks to staff telephone banks and knock on doors of prospective voters.

Before the polls closed, a top Obama adviser, David Axelrod, acknowledged that Mr. Brown ran a “very clever campaign,” saying that “as a practitioner, my hat’s off to him.”

Even before the outcome of the race was known, the Massachusetts contest was seen as having a significant impact on the fate of Mr. Obama’s broader agenda.

Public opinion polls showed growing voter dissatisfaction with the health care overhaul bill, but before Tuesday’s election, it was unknown if that would translate into Republican votes. Just 33 percent support the bill, the same percentage as nine months ago, according to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey. But over that same period, the number that oppose the plan rose 26 points to 46 percent.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Obama didn’t mention the health care bill once during his Sunday campaign stop with Mrs. Coakley.

For her part, Mrs. Coakley ran what many here have called a weak campaign, virtually disappearing in November and December when she held a double-digit lead. Busy trying to restock her campaign coffers, she did few public events and appeared to shun the campaign trail, a stark contrast from Mr. Brown, who seemed to feed off the energy of each event.

After a Framingham rally Monday in a middle-school gym — only a quarter full — she left just two minutes after her speech. Mr. Brown, at a rally Sunday in Worcester, wrapped up his comments by saying: “I’m going to try to meet every one of you.” He stayed for nearly 30 minutes, posing for pictures and signing autographs.

Democrats are still adjusting to the sudden decisions by two longtime senators to call it quits. Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota announced earlier this month they will not seek re-election, and Democratic Party leaders now fear they face significant net losses in both the House and Senate this fall.

On the other side, Republicans voters are energized and many see a replay of 1994, when Republicans recruited a strong slate of candidates who swept the House and the Senate as part of the populist “Contract With America” movement.

Massachusetts last sent a Republican to the Senate in 1972 — when Mr. Obama was 11 years old, a gallon of gas cost 25 cents, “The Godfather” won the Oscar for Best Picture, Led Zeppelin put out a new song called “Stairway to Heaven” and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 1,000 for the first time.

The Dow rose 115 points on Tuesday as the U.S. Health Care Index rebounded, which some analysts ascribed to the expected election of Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown once again made clear that he will listen to the people who elected him.

“I will remember that while the honor is mine, this Senate seat belongs to no one person and no political party. And as I have said before, and you said loud and clear today, it is the people’s seat,” he said to cheers.

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report in Washington.

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