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In Liberal Massachusetts, An Epic GOP Victory

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In Liberal Massachusetts, An Epic GOP Victory

Politics

In Liberal Massachusetts, An Epic GOP Victory

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

It's January 20th, one year to the day after President Obama took office. On that day one year ago, huge crowds ignored the cold to witness his inauguration. This morning, the president wakes up to a bitter anniversary gift.

INSKEEP: Massachusetts elected a new senator last night. Republican Scott Brown won the U.S. Senate seat that the late Ted Kennedy held for the Democrats for decades. And just like that, Democrats lost their 60th vote in the Senate, which means they lost the power to pass bills over unanimous Republican opposition.

NPRs Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: A stunning upset barely begins to describe what Scott Brown pulled off last night. Not only did a Republican win statewide in left-leaning Massachusetts, but it was a relatively unknown state senator who won the seat held for nearly half a century by Ted Kennedy. And he managed to do it by coming from nowhere, closing a 30-point gap in just weeks, an almost epic feat that seemed to stun even Scott Brown himself.

Senator-elect SCOTT BROWN (Republican, Massachusetts): I knew things were really starting to click when I saw a handmade Scott Brown yard sign that I actually hadnt put there myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Brown said it was voter frustration with President Obamas plan to overhaul health care that propelled him to victory.

Sen.-elect BROWN: And its being forced on the American people, and this bill is not being debated openly and fairly. It will raise taxes.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Sen.-elect BROWN: It will raise taxes. It will hurt Medicare. It will destroy jobs and run our nation deeper into debt.

SMITH: For her part, Martha Coakley said she was heartbroken at the outcome. She acknowledged voters anger, and went on to echo words of the late Senator Kennedy, who had called universal health care the cause of his life.

Attorney General MARTHA COAKLEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): The work begins anew. The hope rises again, and the dream lives on.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

SMITH: Coakley was roundly criticized for the way she ran her campaign. She was seen as stiff, somewhat distant and aloof. Many voters thought she felt a sense of entitlement to the seat. It was in stark contrast to Brown, who campaigned from his pickup truck as a kind of everyman, and relished every opportunity to mix it up with voters, especially last night.

Sen.-elect BROWN: Guys, listen. Im going to meet everybody, so just be patient, just take a step back and relax. Im not going anywhere. Im going to party with you guys, OK?

SMITH: On the campaign trail, Brown often repeated his promise to block the presidents plan to overhaul health care. Indeed, as he becomes the Republican's 41st vote in the Senate, he ends the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority, a prospect clearly on the minds of his supporters last night.

Unidentified Group: Forty-one, 41, 41...

SMITH: Massachusetts may not be the best place to measure support for overhauling health care since voters here already have universal coverage through a state program that still enjoys broad support, a point acknowledged by former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who signed the plan into law when he was governor.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; Former Republican Presidential Candidate): We have a plan that does not cut Medicare, does not raise taxes, and does not have a public option. And for the people of Massachusetts to have Obama care would mean that they'd have to subsidize the rest of the nation with higher taxes and Medicare cuts. Why would they do that when we already have 98 percent of our people insured?

SMITH: It was a view expressed by many voters at the very busy polls yesterday, like in this heavily Democratic neighborhood in Lexington.

Ms. JOE MCLELLAN(ph): Im a Democrat by nature, but its time for a change.

SMITH: Thats 50-year-old Joe McLellan, who works in high-tech.

Mr. MCLELLAN: I live in a liberal community. Liberal values here, I endorse, but I think it was time to fix the spend, spend, spend, or there will be no United States - no future, our kids, that whole big deal.

SMITH: A spokesman for President Obama says he is surprised and frustrated by yesterdays vote. Indeed, the Democratic defeat is already reverberating around the nation, rattling Democrats and emboldening Republicans heading into this years midterm elections - a prospect thats got Brown supporters like Mike Sanders(ph), from Saugus, absolutely ecstatic.

Mr. MIKE SANDERS: If we can win the bluest of the blue states, you'd better watch out, the rest of the states.

SMITH: Also gleefully cheering on Scott Brown last night was a fellow Republican who's running for Congress from a district in western Massachusetts. There is no doubt, he said, that Scott Brown has just left us the recipe for success.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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