Elizabeth Ann Warren, a fierce consumer advocate who galvanized liberals across the nation, won a decisive victory over Senator Scott Brown Tuesday, avenging the Democratic Party’s bitter loss at the hands of Brown in 2010, an upset that jolted the national political landscape.
Buoyed by a strong showing in urban strongholds and liberal suburbs, Warren made history: She will become the first woman to represent Massachusetts in the US Senate.
Warren, 63, told cheering supporters at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel in downtown Boston that she would not forget what they had done to elect her.
“I will always carry your stories with me in my heart,” she said. “I won’t just be your senator. I will be your champion.”
Brown was gracious and relaxed in defeat, hinting strongly in his concession speech that he might make another run for office.
“Defeat is only temporary,” Brown said at the Boston Park Plaza hotel, just blocks from where Warren celebrated her victory. Political speculation centers on a possible run for Senator John Kerry’s seat, if he is appointed secretary of state. Others say he could be a top candidate for the GOP nomination for governor.
“She has received the high honor of holding the people’s seat,” Brown said, alluding to his famous declaration in 2010.
With 91 percent of the precincts reporting, Warren led Brown by 8 percentage points, 54 percent to 46 percent.
Warren’s win marks a return to the robust liberalism espoused by the late Edward M. Kennedy, who held the seat for 4½ decades before Brown’s improbable victory, and it also provides a key to her party’s hope of maintaining control of the Senate, an issue that loomed large in her campaign.
The Harvard professor and former special adviser to President Obama, whose candidacy represented a rebuke to the Tea Party movement, built her lead in the state’s cities, from Springfield and Worcester to New Bedford, Fall River, and Boston. Brown was unable to make up those margins in the Republican towns in the Merrimack Valley and the South Shore or with those in the Blackstone Valley and northern Worcester County.
Unions also played a large role in Warren’s win. After the rank and file backed Brown in 2010, a strong push by organized labor led to a 61 percent victory among union members for Warren, according to an internal poll taken by the AFL-CIO Tuesday.
As Warren’s victory was announced on television, the mood at the Brown election night party was subdued. Huge crowds of people frowned at their smartphones, and a few started to head home before Brown spoke.
Brown’s race with Warren drew additional attention for an unprecedented pact meant to blunt the influence of super PACs and other outside groups that placed hundreds of millions of dollars in advertisements in races around the country this year. Despite skepticism, the deal worked, forcing Brown and Warren to stand behind their own televised attacks.
With both candidates able to raise money nationally, the race was the most expensive and one of the most competitive, in Massachusetts history. The price tag, about $75 million between the two candidates, also ranks among the largest in the nation’s history. Warren’s haul of at least $39 million shattered state records.
Warren’s win marks a significant comeback for the Democratic Party, which suffered a humiliating loss on Jan. 19, 2010, with Brown’s defeat of Attorney General Martha Coakley. That win reinvigorated national Republicans and altered the Obama administration’s agenda, because it gave Republicans a greater ability to hold up bills in the Senate.
Tuesday’s results also erase Republicans’ rights to brag over capturing Kennedy’s seat and to rally around Brown as a sign of the state party’s potential resurgence.
During his brief tenure, Brown remained one of the state’s most popular public officeholders and a national political star, with a campaign war chest that intimidated many would-be challengers. Even after a bruising campaign, most surveys showed that he remained more personally popular than Warren.
Warren now heads to Washington as an unstinting critic of Wall Street and the financial sector, which backed Brown and worried that she would build upon the regulatory efforts that started her political ascendancy.
She also enters a polarized Senate, with neither party able to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and force debate, even as the nation faces a number of fiscal and economic challenges.
Warren, who built a national following after she conceived of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, burst onto the Massachusetts political scene more than a year ago, cleared the Democratic field of other Senate candidates, and quickly demonstrated through her fund-raising prowess that she could mount a serious challenge to Brown.
Her tough analysis of the financial crisis made her a darling of the television interview circuit, especially with liberals such as Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow.
“What you find in Elizabeth Warren is someone who is going to be an active player in the game, and that’s appealing,” said Mark Weld, 50, a Manchester real estate investor who voted for her.
The candidates posed clear questions to voters. Brown’s final pitch was “people over party,” a plea to weigh individual character over ideology in a state where the national GOP is scorned. Warren said it came down to “whose side are you on,” an attempt to draw a bright line between the parties and to embrace Democrats’ bedrock ideal that an expanded government would bolster the middle class.
Despite both candidates’ ability to inspire a nation of donors and supporters, their campaign was fought on a relatively narrow bandwidth, with neither offering a specific vision for the future. Brown campaigned on bipartisanship, family, and with attacks on Warren’s legal work and her undocumented claims of Native American heritage.
Throughout the campaign, the dynamics of the race changed little.
Republicans banked on Brown’s popularity, his moderate reputation, and the belief that Obama supporters could be persuaded to split their tickets to balance the state’s representation in Congress. Democrats believed a well-financed candidate in a presidential election could simply overwhelm Brown’s efforts.
Stephanie Ebbert, Mark Arsenault, and Billy Baker of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Frank Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.