Republican Brown wins Senate seat in major upset, endangering Obamas health care plan

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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BOSTON - In a major upset, Republican Scott Brown on Tuesday captured the U.S. Senate seat held by liberal champion Edward M. Kennedy for nearly a half century, leaving President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in doubt and marring the end of his first year in office.
Brown's defeat of once-favoured Martha Coakley for the Massachusetts seat was a stunning embarrassment for the White House after Obama rushed to Boston on Sunday to try to save her candidacy. Her defeat signalled big political problems for the president's party in November when House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot.
More immediately, Brown will become the 41st Republican in the 100-member Senate, which could allow the Republicans to block the president's health care legislation and the rest of Obama's agenda. Democrats needed Coakley to win for a 60th vote to thwart Republican procedural manoeuvrs to block votes on legislation.
The trouble may go deeper: Democratic lawmakers could read the results as a vote against Obama's broader agenda, weakening their support for the president. And the results could scare some Democrats from seeking office this fall.
Brown led by 52 per cent to 47 per cent with all but 3 per cent of precincts counted.
Brown will finish Kennedy's unexpired term, facing re-election in 2012. He will be the first Republican senator from Massachusetts in 30 years.
Turnout was exceptional for a special election in January, with light snow reported in parts of the state. More voters showed up at the polls Tuesday than in any non-presidential general election in Massachusetts since 1990.
The election transformed reliably Democratic Massachusetts into a battleground state. Just 14 months ago, Obama carried the state by 26 percentage points over Republican John McCain.
One day shy of the first anniversary of Obama's swearing-in, it played out amid a backdrop of animosity and resentment from voters over persistently high unemployment, industry bailouts, exploding federal budget deficits and partisan wrangling over health care.
For weeks considered a long-shot, Brown, a little-known state senator, rode that wave of bitterness to draw even with Coakley, the state attorney general, in the final stretch of the campaign. Surveys showed his candidacy energized Republicans while attracting disappointed Democrats and independents uneasy with where they felt the U.S. was heading.
"I have no interest in sugarcoating what happened in Massachusetts," said Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the head of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee. "There is a lot of anxiety in the country right now. Americans are understandably impatient."
Coakley called Brown conceding the race, and Obama talked to both Brown and Coakley, congratulating them on the race.
The Democrat said the president told her: "We can't win them all."
But even before the polls closed, Obama administration officials and Coakley's supporters were blaming each other. Administration officials privately accused Coakley of a poorly run campaign. They played down the notion that Obama or a toxic political landscape had much to do with the outcome.
Coakley's supporters, in turn, blamed that very environment, saying her lead dropped significantly after the Senate passed a health care bill shortly before Christmas and after the Christmas Day attempted airliner bombing that Obama himself said showed a failure of his administration.
Wall Street watched closely. The Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 1 per cent. Analysts attributed the increase to hopes the election would make it harder for Obama to make his changes to health care. That eased investor concerns that profits at companies such as insurers and drug makers would suffer.
Across Massachusetts, voters who had been bombarded with phone calls and dizzied with nonstop campaign commercials for Coakley and Brown gave a fitting turnout despite intermittent snow and rain statewide.
Secretary of State William Galvin, who discounted sporadic reports of voter irregularities throughout the day, predicted turnout ranging from 1.6 million to 2.2 million, 40 per cent to 55 per cent of registered voters. The Dec. 8 primary had a scant turnout of about 20 per cent.
National issues including health care and the federal budget deficits were on voters' minds.
"We don't want health care just for the rich and the middle class. We need it for everyone," said Democrat Neicei Degan, 82, who voted for Coakley.
Fears about spending drove Karla Bunch, 49, to vote for Brown. "It's time for the country, for the taxpayers, to take back their money," she said.
Coakley, stunned to see a double-digit lead evaporate in recent weeks, counted on labour unions and reawakened Democrats to turn out on her behalf and preserve a seat Kennedy and his brother, President John F. Kennedy, held for over 50 years. The senator died in August of brain cancer.
With the stakes so high, Obama campaigned for Coakley in Boston over the weekend and appeared in television ads on her behalf.
Obama has made overhauling the U.S. health care system, which leaves nearly 50 million people uninsured, his top domestic priority. Kennedy was a longtime champion of the cause.
Democratic congressional leaders put on a show of resolve Tuesday.
"Whatever happens in Massachusetts, we will have quality, affordable health care for all Americans, and we will have it soon," said House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Organizations: Democrats, Republicans, U.S. Senate Brown's Dow Jones industrial average House of Representatives Speaker

Geographic location: Massachusetts, BOSTON, U.S. New Jersey

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Recent comments

  • flogger
    March 01, 2010 - 14:40

    Hmmmm, maybe the American people now realize that the celebrity rock star they elected is a typical Liberal ... lots of ideas and talk, but no substance? No wonder his ratings have tanked.