BOSTON - Republican Scott Brown, a little-known state senator just weeks ago, Tuesday trounced Democrat Martha Coakley to win a Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat and jolt Washington's Democratic leaders with a victory that imperils President Barack Obama's agenda, led by his bid to overhaul the nation's health care system.
Brown, 50, mobilized voters in one of the nation's most Democratic states - voters frustrated by the sluggish economy, angry about big government and uneasy about changes in health care. He led Coakley, 56, by 52 percent to 47 percent with all but 3 percent of precincts counted.
With his victory, the first time since 1972 that a Republican has won a Massachusetts Senate race, Brown will take the "Kennedy seat" occupied by Sen. Edward Kennedy for 47 years before his death in August and once held by John F. Kennedy before he became president in 1961.
The Coakley loss is sure to reverberate well beyond this state.
But instead of the adulatory throngs that lined the National Mall last Jan. 20 to hail the new chief, Obama now faces the result of a virtual referendum on not only health care but the Democrats' year-old stewardship of the federal government in a state he won in 2008 with 61.8 percent of the vote.
"Scott Brown caught the wave," Massachusetts Democratic consultant Dan Payne said. "People are worried about jobs, angry about Wall Street bonuses, upset about the deals being made for health care legislation, afraid of nuts like the underwear bomber. Nothing seems to be going well except stock prices."
Democrats got another message from the Bay State yesterday: Republicans have fresh momentum heading into November's midterm elections, when 37 Senate seats - 19 now held by Democrats, 18 by Republicans - and all 435 House of Representatives members will be up for election.
Democrats say they're well aware of the political danger ahead.
"We're all pretty unpopular," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) "Why? Because people don't feel good. We're the leaders and we're in office, and they expect us to do something about it."
Brown, expected to be sworn in early next month, will become the 41st Republican senator, just enough to allow Republicans to block any legislation indefinitely in the Senate if they stick together.
Coakley had appeared headed for an easy win until about a month ago, but then came three crucial twists. First, she lacked the passion that Democrats expect from statewide candidates.
"Her campaign has no urgency, no forward thrust," Payne said.
The Senate vote on the Democrats' health plan was also costly.
Finally, on Christmas, a Nigerian man allegedly attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane, bringing terrorism issues back into the spotlight.
Voters started to look more closely at the amiable Brown, a onetime Cosmopolitan centerfold and veteran National Guardsman who campaigned in his truck to burnish his "regular guy" image.