Republican state Sen. Scott Brown will become the next U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, a stunning outcome that could cause major problems for President Obama’s push to enact health care reform legislation.
The Associated Press projected Tuesday night that Brown beat Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley despite the fact that polls last month predicted Coakley would win by double digits. The seat will be surrendered by Paul Kirk, who was appointed after the August death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, a lifelong champion of health care reform. Kennedy held the seat for 47 years.
The Brown victory will likely have a significant impact on President Obama and the Congressional Democrats, who have spent most of the past year trying to pass legislation that would expand health care coverage and enact more strident regulation on the health insurance industry.
In his acceptance speech, Brown emphasized the independent voters of Massachusetts for delivering the victory.
“Tonight the independent voice of Massachusetts has spoken. The voters of this commonwealth defied the odds and the experts,” Brown told a cheering crowd. “The independent majority has delivered a great victory.”
Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued a statement congratulating Brown on the victory, while warning Democrats they would be held accountable in the 2010 midterm elections.
“As we look forward to the midterm elections this November, Democrats nationwide should be on notice: Americans are ready to hold the party in power accountable for their irresponsible spending and out-of-touch agenda, and they’re ready for real change in Washington,” he said.
The outcome is also significant because Massachusetts is one of the most reliably Democratic-leaning states in America. President Obama campaigned in vain for Coakley on Sunday, but he won the state in the 2008 election by a wide margin. Brown is the first Republican senator from Massachusetts since 1972.
In her concession speech, Coakley said she was disappointed by the results but would keep working for the issues Massachusetts citizens care about.
“I wish we were here with other and better news tonight,” Coakley told supporters. “There will be plenty of Wednesday morning quarterbacking. We will be honest about the assessment of this race.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement Tuesday night reporting that Mr. Obama called both candidates after the results.
“The President congratulated Senator Brown on his victory and a well-run campaign. The President told Senator Brown that he looks forward to working with him on the urgent economic challenges facing Massachusetts families and struggling families across our nation,” he said.
New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the Democrats would sort through the lessons of the loss.
“I have no interest in sugar coating what happened in Massachusetts. There is a lot of anxiety in the country right now. Americans are understandably impatient. The truth is Democrats understand the economic anger voters feel, that’s in large part why we did well in 2006 and 2008,” Menendez said.
This Senate seat is of pivotal importance because before the special election, the Democrats controlled 58 seats in the U.S. Senate and there are two independents who caucus with them.
This 60-vote supermajority made it possible to prevent Republican attempts to filibuster health care reform, and Brown has pledged to vote against reform as the Senate prepares to pass a final version of the bill and send it to President Obama’s desk.
President Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that the president is “both surprised and frustrated” and “not pleased” by the Massachusetts race.
Democrat Barney Frank, a U.S. House member from Massachusetts and chairman of the Finance committee, had a dire prediction earlier in January.
“If Scott Brown wins, it’ll kill the health bill,” Frank said
On Monday’s NewsHour, WBUR’s Fred Thys told Jeffrey Brown that Brown had generated curiosity and excitement at his rallies among different types of voters – die-hard Republicans and those just curious about the candidate.
Coakley, he said, was appealing only to Democrats.
“The Democrats do have a 3-to-1 advantage over Republicans in Massachusetts. But between the two parties, registered — voters registered for either party are still slightly less than half of all the registered voters. Most voters are independent voters,” Thys said on the program.
Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House now have to try to finish health care reform without the luxury of the filibuster-proof 60 senate votes. Democratic leaders are currently negotiating behind closed doors to create a compromise version of the different versions of the bill passed by the House and Senate.
Without 60 votes, the Democrats would be unable to stop Senate Republicans from obstructing a final vote on the compromise.
Democrats are considering several options – including convincing House members to pass the Senate bill as is, which could then be sent directly to President Obama for a signature. They could also try to finish work on the bill before Brown has a chance to be seated.
Congressional Quarterly reported that Brown likely would not be sworn in until February, because federal law requires the state wait 10 days to receive military and overseas ballots. After that, top state officials would have to sign an election certificate before Brown could be seated.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that the Congress would work out the differences, whatever the special election outcome.
“Regardless of what happens in Massachusetts, we still have to resolve the differences between our two bills. We still need to communicate with our members about the direction they want us to go on certain particular issues,” Pelosi said.