GOP Win in Massachusetts May Complicate Obama Agenda

BY Jason M. Breslow  January 20, 2010 at 8:37 AM EDT

In a stunning upset in traditionally liberal Massachusetts, Republican State Sen. Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley to win the U.S. Senate seat held by Edward M. Kennedy for 47 years, upending the balance of power in Washington and thrusting President Obama’s health care overhaul into peril.

With all precincts counted, Brown, who up until a few weeks ago was a little-known figure across Massachusetts, topped Coakley, the state’s attorney general, by a margin of 52 percent to 47 percent. See town-by-town results from the Boston Globe here, and a breakdown of the vote from WBUR here.

“They thought that they owned this seat. They thought that they couldn’t lose,” Brown told a crowd of cheering supporters following Tuesday’s victory. “You all set them straight.”

Brown’s win marks a dramatic reversal of fortunes for President Obama, who little more than a year ago rode a wave of voter anger and frustration over Republican policies to a historic win over Sen. John McCain. But voter dissatisfaction over issues such as the financial bailout, a weak economy and the health care bill has proven formidable for Democrats. The president’s party is now left “to wonder whether they and Obama have an answer to that anger that can head off potentially devastating losses in the November midterm elections,” writes Dan Balz in the Washington Post.

“Most ominously,” says Adam Nagourny of the New York Times, “independent voters — who embraced Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign and are an increasingly critical constituency — seemed to have fled to Mr. Brown in Massachusetts, as they did to Republicans in races for governor in Virginia and New Jersey last November. It is hard not to view that as a repudiation of the way Mr. Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders have run things.”

In the short-term, Brown’s victory leaves Congressional Democrats, along with the White House, scrambling to find a way to salvage a hotly-debated health care bill. As the soon to be 41st Republican vote in the Senate, Brown breaks Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the chamber. He has vowed to oppose President Obama’s top domestic initiative, telling supporters Tuesday, “People don’t want this trillion-dollar healthcare plan that is being forced on the American people.”

Democratic leaders have insisted they will press ahead with the bill. “We will get the job done. I am confident of that,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters on her way out of the Capitol last night. Yet it remains unclear just how Democrats will be able to do so.

One option is for the House to approve the Senate version of the health bill. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. has said “the Senate bill is better than nothing,” however big differences between the two bills over such issues as how to pay for an overhaul and abortion already have Democrats split. In the aftermath of the Massachusetts special election, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. said “If there isn’t any recognition that we got the message and we are trying to recalibrate and do things differently, we are not only going to risk looking ignorant but arrogant.”

It also doesn’t help that many on the left are already playing the blame game over the Massachusetts loss.

As for the rest of President Obama’s agenda heading into the 2010 midterms, the outlook is newly murky. “The election is an extremely serious blow to the agenda of Barack Obama,” according to the Economist. Then again, “as Brown’s victory showed, a lot can change in two weeks. Even more can change in the next 10 months,” Christopher Beam writes in Slate.

We’ll have plenty more on the outcome in Massachusetts, as well as continuing coverage of the crisis in Haiti, here throughout the day as well as on tonight’s broadcast of the PBS NewsHour. Stay tuned.