Scott Brown celebrates his victory.
Scott Brown celebrates his victory.
Capturing the Senate seat held by Edward Kennedy for nearly 47 years, in one of the more solidly Democratic states in the country, is an almost epic feat that seemed to stun even Scott Brown himself.
After all, the formerly obscure state senator who captured 52 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election, defeating Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley, was trailing by 30 points in the polls only a few weeks ago.
"I knew things were really starting to click when I saw a handmade 'Scott Brown' yard sign that I actually hadn't put there myself," the exultant victor told supporters in his victory speech.
Brown became the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts since 1972. He vaulted into the lead by campaigning from his pickup as a kind of everyman — a stark contrast from an opponent seen as more stiff and aloof.
"I just focused on what I did, which is to talk about the issues — terror, taxes and the health care plan," Brown said on NBC's Today show Wednesday morning. "People enjoyed the message."
In particular, Brown credits voter frustration with President Obama's plan to overhaul health care for driving his stunning upset.
"That is being forced on the American people, and this bill is not being debated openly and fairly," he said. "It will raise taxes, it will hurt Medicare, it will destroy jobs and run our nation deeper into debt."
On the campaign trail, Brown often repeated his pledge to block the health care bill. As he becomes the 41st Republican in the U.S. Senate, he ends the Democratic filibuster-proof majority and throws the entire Obama overhaul effort into disarray. This prospect was clearly relished by the crowd of his supporters who gathered Tuesday night, chanting, "41, 41, 41."
Brown will serve the rest of Kennedy's unexpired term, facing re-election in 2012. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged to seat the new senator immediately, a retreat from pre-election Democratic threats to delay his inauguration until after the health bill passed.
Still, Massachusetts may not be the best place to measure support for overhauling health care, because voters there already have universal coverage through a state program that continues to enjoy broad support.
Indeed, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is the one who signed the plan into law when he was governor. "We have a plan that does not cut Medicare, does not raise taxes and does not have a public option," Romney said. "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?"
Romney's view was echoed by many voters, even by Democrats in left-leaning neighborhoods like Lexington — a sign that should worry a White House that took office exactly one year ago amid great fanfare.
"I'm a Democrat by nature, but it's time for a change," said Joe MacLellan, a 50-year-old Lexington resident who works in high-tech. "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."
A spokesman for Obama says he is surprised and frustrated by Tuesday's vote.
For her part, Coakley said she is heartbroken by the defeat but tried to echo the words of the late Sen. Kennedy, who had called national health care reform the cause of his life.
"The work begins anew, the hope rises again and the dream lives on," she said.
But the defeat is already rattling Democrats and emboldening Republicans heading into this year's midterm elections — a prospect that has Brown supporters like Mike Sanders from Saugus, Mass., absolutely ecstatic.
"If we can win the bluest of the blue states," he said, "you'd better watch out, the rest of the states."