Obama suffers Senate blow

January 20, 2010 12:00 am

, BOSTON, Massachusetts, Jan 20 – Republicans won a stunning upset in Massachusetts\’ Senate election, dealing a potentially fatal blow to US President Barack Obama\’s health care reforms.

Republican Scott Brown pulled off the surprise victory, capturing the late Democratic icon Edward Kennedy\’s seat in a stern rebuke of Obama exactly a year after he swept into office.

With nearly all votes counted, Brown had 52 percent to 47 percent for his Democratic rival Martha Coakley.

Coakley originally expected a cakewalk in the historically left-leaning state, but Brown\’s populist challenge to Democratic rule in Washington turned the race into an unstoppable insurgency.

"Tonight, the independent voice of Massachusetts has spoken," Brown said in a rousing victory speech.

"The voters of this commonwealth defied the odds and the experts."

Coakley for her part said she was "heartbroken" at the result.

"But I know we will get up tomorrow and continue the fight," Coakley told supporters in Boston.

"I have offered him my congratulations," she said.

The biggest loss is Obama\’s.

When Brown takes up his seat, the Democrats will retain a hefty majority in the Senate, but lose the crucial 60th vote allowing them to override Republican blocking of the White House agenda.

The first big victim, analysts say, is likely to be Obama\’s cherished health care reforms package, which has been struggling to pass in Congress even with the Democratic majority.

Brown, who will become the 41st Republican in the Senate, has promised to vote against health care, thereby derailing easy passage of the bill.

"I think you can make a pretty good argument that health care might be dead," Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner told MSNBC television.

Supporters at Brown\’s headquarters were jubilant, shouting: "It\’s a miracle!" and "People\’s seat! People\’s seat!"

"I think this a very good sign. This indicates people want something new in government," said one voter, Derek Ho.

Analysts point to a lacklustre campaign by Coakley and a misreading by the Democrats of popular anger at Washington in time of recession and at what Republicans say is an over-expanding government.

The White House admitted that Obama, who rushed to campaign alongside Coakley on Sunday, was "surprised and frustrated" and "not pleased" about the race. But the administration denied the election showed Obama was out of touch with the nation\’s mood.

Beyond health care, a Brown triumph will have wider implications for Obama\’s agenda and political prestige, and complicate his bid to pass items like cap-and-trade climate legislation and immigration reform.

A Republican win will also likely scare some conservative Democrats from Obama\’s side, as they face mid-term congressional polls in November, with the president\’s approval ratings slipping and the economy in the mire.

Voters have "had enough of the binge spending and government-growing agenda coming from Washington. Democrats everywhere are officially on notice," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said after the result came in.

Steele\’s Democratic counterpart, Tim Kaine, said "it goes without saying that we are disappointed."

"There will be plenty of time to dissect this race and to apply the lessons learned from it those to come this fall," he said.

Meanwhile, senior Republican figure Mitt Romney heralded a political sea change.

"This is really a referendum on the Barack Obama agenda and I think a way of working in Washington, which is kind of an arrogant approach to politics in this country," Romney, a former presidential candidate, told Fox News.

The White House disputes the idea that the Massachusetts vote was a referendum on the president, pointing out he still enjoys high approval in the state.

Aides also reject the idea voters are out to thwart his health care reform, which seeks to rein in health insurance companies, cut costs and grant health care to 31 of the 36 million Americans currently without coverage.

Obama views the race as more evidence of the popular "upset and anger" at incumbent politicians which powered his own 2008 election race, spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"That\’s not a surprise to us in this administration because… in many ways, we\’re here because of that upset and anger," Gibbs said.


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