BOSTON – Republican Scott Brown says his Senate victory in Massachusetts sends a powerful message and he hopes to get to work right away.
Brown's stunning triumph for the seat long held by Sen. Ted Kennedy was a devastating Democratic defeat that triggered soul-searching within President Barack Obama's party over how to stem further losses in November's midterm elections.
Brown told a news conference on Wednesday, "The campaign is over now, and we have to focus on solving problems."
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BOSTON (AP) — Republicans are rejoicing and Democrats reeling in the wake of Scott Brown's stunning triumph in a special Massachusetts Senate election, a devastating Democratic defeat that triggered soul-searching within President Barack Obama's party over how to stem further losses in November's midterm elections.
Obama himself grimly faced a need to regroup on Wednesday, the anniversary of his inauguration, in a White House shaken by the realization of what a difference a year made.
The most likely starting place was finding a way to save the much-criticized health care overhaul Democrats have been trying to push through Congress. The Democratic Party also faced a need to determine how to assuage an angry electorate, and particularly attract independent voters who have fled to the GOP after a year of Wall Street bailouts, economic stimulus spending and enormous budget deficits.
In one of the country's most traditionally liberal states, Brown rode a wave of voter anger to defeat Martha Coakley, the attorney general who had been considered a surefire winner until just days ago. Her loss signaled big political problems for Obama and the Democratic Party this fall when House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot nationwide.
As if in a nod to voter disgust with Washington, Obama signed a directive Wednesday aimed at stopping government contracts from going to tax-delinquent companies. "We need to insist on the same sense of responsibility in Washington that so many of you strive to uphold in your own lives, in your own families, and in your own businesses," Obama said.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama's Republican presidential rival in 2008, likened Brown's win to the Revolutionary War's "shot heard 'round the world" in Concord, Mass., in April 1775. McCain said the message was clear: "No more business as usual in Washington. Stop this unsavory sausage-making process."
White House officials acknowledged that one of the lessons from Massachusetts was the intensity of voter anger, but they said it wasn't so much with Obama as with Washington's failures in general and with the moribund economy.
"There are messages here. We hear those messages," senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said in an interview with MSNBC. "There is a general sense of discontent about the economy. And there is a general sense of discontent about this town. That's why we were elected."
Added Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: "There's a tremendous amount of anger and frustration about where people are economically ... I think that's what's ultimately going to define the coming political battles."
The advisers downplayed the notion that the vote was an indictment against health care reform. But Axelrod said that officials will "take into account" what voters said Tuesday. He added, "It's not an option simply to walk away from a problem that's only going to get worse."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama has an opportunity to strike a more bipartisan approach.
"The president ought to take this as a message to recalibrate how he wants to govern and if he wants to govern from the middle we'll meet him there," he said.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats were urging their House and Senate candidates to embrace in their campaigns against Republicans the populist appeal the president had made on Sunday as he rushed to Boston to try to save Coakley and the Senate seat held by Democrats, and specifically the late Edward M. Kennedy, for nearly a century.
His attempt didn't work but House and Senate Democrats insisted that the pitch — Democrats work for the people, Republicans work for Wall Street — was simply made too late.
Brown maintained in an interview Wednesday morning that claiming the election was a referendum on Obama would be oversimplifying what had happened there. Nor, he said, was it merely a matter of voters rejecting Coakley.
Asked on NBC's "Today" show if the election was a referendum on Obama, he replied, "No, it's bigger than that."
"I just focused on what I did, which is to talk about the issues — terror, taxes and the health care plan," he said. "I don't think it was anything that she did."
Brown will become the 41st Republican in the 100-member Senate, which could allow the GOP to block the health care bill. Democrats needed Coakley to win for a 60th vote to thwart Republican filibusters.
Brown became the first Republican elected to the U.S. Senate from supposedly true-blue Democratic Massachusetts since 1972.
"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."
Brown will finish Kennedy's unexpired term, facing re-election in 2012. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged to seat Brown immediately, a hasty retreat from pre-election Democratic threats to delay his inauguration until after the health bill passed.
Brown led by 52 percent to 47 percent with 100 percent of precincts counted. The third candidate in the race, independent Joseph L. Kennedy, who is no relation to Edward Kennedy, had less than 1 percent.
The local election played out against a national backdrop of animosity and resentment from voters over persistently high unemployment, Wall Street bailouts, exploding federal budget deficits and partisan wrangling over health care.
For weeks considered a long shot, the 50-year-old Brown seized on voter discontent to overtake Coakley in the campaign's final stretch.