WASHINGTON - The calls for change that rallied independents to Barack Obama in 2008 and propelled him to the White House reverberated again in Massachusetts Tuesday night, now threatening the president's agenda.
With Republican Scott Brown's victory in a special election to fill the Senate seat that had been long held by the late Edward Kennedy, a Democrat, the president may have to scale back his second-year agenda, which includes overhauling immigration laws and financial regulations, analysts said.
Brown's defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley is "a body blow to Obama and other Democrats," said Larry Jacobs, director of the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "It's a resounding message of rejection, disappointment and the loss of hope."
The White House is likely to focus now on salvaging health care legislation and reclaiming populist ground on the economy and jobs.
Obama's advisers said he is already moving to focus on those issues, along with deficit reduction, in his State of the Union address on Jan. 27 and the budget he submits to Congress Feb. 1. He'll also keep up criticism of Wall Street and executive bonuses as he presses for new regulations.
"What you will really see the Democratic leadership do is to pivot to job creation and deficit control," Arizona's Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said Tuesday. "They can read the polls, too."
Even with 60 seats in the Senate and 256 seats in the House, Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struggled to steer the president's agenda through Congress. That will become even more difficult with one less Senate vote and with lawmakers facing close re-election fights in November hearing echoes from the Massachusetts race.
David Plouffe, who was Obama's campaign manager in the 2008 election and still serves as an outside adviser, said Obama will remain focused on moving his agenda forward. "That's not going to be easy," Plouffe said.