Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Republican Scott Brown pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Massachusetts political history tonight, defeating Democrat Martha Coakley to become the state's next United States senator and potentially derail President Obama's hopes for a health care overhaul.
The victory caps a dramatic surge in recent days as Brown, a state lawmaker from Wrentham once thought to have little chance of beating a popular attorney general, roared ahead of Coakley to become the first Republican senator elected from Massachusetts since 1972.
In a race that became the center of national attention, Brown's win is widely seen as a vote against the president's agenda from one of the most reliably Democratic states. And in a particularly ironic twist, Brown, in succeeding Edward M. Kennedy -- the late liberal lion who deemed health care "the cause of my life" -- may well be the 41st vote to prevent the Democratic-led plan from moving forward.
"Tonight, the independent voice of Massachusetts has spoken,'' Brown told cheering supporters at the Park Plaza Hotel, who broke out into a chorus of "41, 41."
Brown said the first call I made was to Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late senator, and told her "his name would always command respect in the state of Massachusetts. ...
There’s no replacing a man like that but tonight, I honor the memory and I pledge to do my very best and try to be a worthy successor to the late Senator Kennedy.''
He added: "We ran a clean, issues-oriented, upbeat campaign and I wouldn't trade that for anything. "It was all of us against the machine. And tonight, we have shown everybody now that you are the machine."
Brown's speech also included some lighthearted moments.
He introduced his two college-age daughters, Ayla and Arianna, who featured prominently in his TV ads and at his campaign events. (At the start of his campaign, his daughter Ayla was probably better-known than her father as a semifinalist on American Idol.) He prompted blushing from his daughters and howls from the crowd when he announced, "Yes, in case for anybody who's watching across the country, they're both available."
In a heartfelt concession speech just Brown spoke, Coakley thanked her supporters, saying she "will not forget the fierce determination with which we approached this – not just again about this campaign, about the things we believed in, we still believe in, and we will still fight for on and after tonight.
"Although our campaign ends tonight, we know that our mission continues and our work goes on,'' she said at the Sheraton Boston. "I am heartbroken at the result and I know that you are also, but I know that you will get up together and continue this fight even with this result tonight.''
She ended by pointing to the words of the late Kennedy: "The work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on."
With 99 percent of precincts reporting late tonight, Brown had 52 percent and Coakley had 47 percent.
Coakley, after cruising to an easy victory in the primary, began the general election race with seemingly every advantage -- from name recognition and fund-raising ability, to a lopsided advantage in voter registration and the backing of the state's Democratic establishment. What's more, she had been plotting a race for US Senate for years.
But Brown marched ahead in the two weeks following the holidays, channeling populist anger at Democratic policies in Washington and capitalizing on Coakley's relatively low-key campaigning. He also benefited from an influx of out-of-state activists and excitement among Massachusetts conservatives, who saw a rare chance at sending a Republican to higher office.
Coakley's loss is particularly dispiriting for the many women who were energized about the prospect of the state's first woman senator.
Brown seeks to be sworn in as soon as possible, although the exact timing remained uncertain. Before the results were announced, Secretary of State William F. Galvin said if the margin of victory were high, he would send unofficial results right away to the Secretary of the US Senate, who has the authority to decide whether to swear in the winner immediately.
It was the first-ever statewide special election for US Senate after the Massachusetts state Legislature changed the law in 2004 to allow voters to elect a new senator in the event of a vacancy. Previously, the governor appointed a successor.
House and Senate lawmakers again changed the law last year to allow the governor to make an interim appointment.
US Senator Paul G. Kirk Jr., a Democrat, will stay in the office until Brown is sworn in.
Over the past two weeks, the contest between Coakley and Brown took on national implications, drawing outside groups that deluged voters with a flurry of TV ads, automated phone calls, mailers, and e-mails, many of them negative.
Brown's campaign courted voters with folksy ads from his kitchen and his GMC pick-up truck. On the campaign trail, he frequently wore a barn jacket over his coat and tie, and made a point to compliment people on their dogs. He often seemed taken aback by his newfound popularity after weeks of stumping at sparsely-attended events in bars, diners, and train stations. He attempted to shake every hand, regardless of the size of the growing crowds.
In a matter of weeks, Brown transformed from an obscure state senator to a giant-killer in the Republican Party. in both Washington and Massachusetts. Even as he eschewed the Republican label at times, he reinvigorated the GOP base and has provided national Republicans with a template for campaigns in the 2010 midterm elections. He will also almost certainly be seen now as a rising star in the party., rivaling former Governor Mitt Romney as the most popular Republican from Massachusetts.
On issues, Brown tapped into a wellspring of voter anger over both state tax increases and corruption on Beacon Hill as he cast Coakley as an insider beholden to the Democratic establishment. And while Brown was embraced by right-wing groups – including activists opposed to gay marriage and abortion – he walked a fine line trying to portray himself as a social moderate.
At the polls earlier today, Brown supporters said they were angered by how Coakley ran her campaign, and at the course of the health care debate on Capitol Hill.
“She basically took the election for granted, and her ads were misleading,'' said Tim Macinta, a 34-year-old software developer from Somerville who voted for Brown. "It wasn’t so much a vote for Brown as a vote against Coakley…I didn’t care for Coakley’s entitled attitude.”
After Kennedy’s death in August, Coakley was the first to announce her candidacy and was the front-runner from the start. As attorney general, she had high name recognition and was the only candidate who had ever run in a statewide election. She piled up endorsements from every corner of the state and her three male Democratic primary opponents never put a dent in her seeming invincibility.
After her 19-point primary victory last month, she seemed to have found the formula for success that had eluded previous women – including gubernatorial bids by former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey and former treasurer Shannon O’Brien – and previous attorneys general, including Thomas F. Reilly and Scott Harshbarger.
But as she stayed off the airwaves and shied away from meet-and-greet politicking, Brown gained notice by running TV ads comparing himself to President John F. Kennedy and defining himself as the champion of independent-minded voters.
Still, with an undistinguished legislative record, Brown always seemed an unlikely candidate to succeed the legendary Edward M. Kennedy to become the first Republican US Senator from Massachusetts since Edward Brooke III, who held the seat from 1967 to 1979. The seat that Kennedy had held, however, had been controlled by the Kennedy family since 1952, when John F. Kennedy won election.
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