Brown: Mass. victory sends 'very powerful message'

Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 4:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 4:17 p.m.

BOSTON — Republican Scott Brown, fresh from a stunning Massachusetts Senate victory that shook the power balance on Capitol Hill, declared Wednesday that his election had sent a "very powerful message" that voters are weary of backroom deals and Washington business-as-usual.

Democrats scrambled to explain the loss, which imperils President Barack Obama's agenda for health care and other hard-fought domestic issues. Republicans greeted their victory with clear glee.

"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," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Obama said the Massachusetts vote reflected the mood around the country. "People are angry, and they're frustrated," he said in an interview with ABC News.

Democrats still exercise majority control over both the House and Senate. But Tuesday's GOP upset to win the seat long held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy — following Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey last fall for gubernatorial seats that had been held by Democrats — signals challenges for Democratic prospects in midterm elections this year. Even when the economy is not bad, the party holding the White House historically loses seats in midterms.

"If there's anybody in this building that doesn't tell you they are more worried about elections today, you should absolutely slap them," Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri told reporters at the Capitol. "Of course everybody is more worried about elections. Are you kidding? It's what this place thrives on."

Brown, in his first meeting with reporters after the special election, portrayed his victory as less a referendum on Obama or the president's health care proposal and more of a sign that people are tired of Washington politics and dealmaking.

He said his victory sends "a very powerful message that business-as-usual is just not going to be the way we do it."

"I think it's important that we hit the ground running," Brown said. He said he would pay a courtesy call to the nation's capital on Thursday.

"Game's over. Let's get to work," he added. It was not clear how quickly he would be sworn in, but Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia said the Senate should not hold any further votes on health care until Brown is seated. That, said McConnell, probably means there will be no further Senate action until then.

Obama said he agreed. "The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated. People in Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of the process," the president told ABC.

The president suggested the same forces that elected Brown "swept me into office" in 2008. People are frustrated "not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters at his daily briefing, "That anger is now pointed at us because we're in charge. And rightly so."

Gibbs said Obama would address the Massachusetts results "and what they mean" in his State of the Union address next Wednesday.

Brown's victory gives Republicans 41 votes in the 100-member Senate, upending the Democrats' ability to stop filibusters and other delaying tactics.

Brown said that, while he planned to caucus with Republicans, "I'm not beholden to anybody."

Democrats were licking their wounds and demonstrating that they got the message from voters and were willing to reach out.

White House tourists even got a surprise Wednesday when first lady Michelle Obama showed up as their greeter to mark the end of Obama's first year as president. She brought the family dog, Bo, to the Blue Room. She chatted with guests and hugged many of them as they filed in.

Obama himself grimly faced a need to regroup in a White House shaken by the realization of what a difference a year made.

In addition to searching for ways to salvage the health care overhaul, 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.

There was a sense that if Republicans could win in one of the country's most traditionally liberal states, Massachusetts, they could probably win anywhere.

"I think every state is now in play, absolutely," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Brown rode a wave of voter anger to defeat Democrat 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."

Brown, 50, 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 swearing-in until after the health bill passed.

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