On January 19, a historic change occurred in the United States senate when the special election held to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy's seat was won by Republican Scott Brown. Kennedy had held the seat for 46 years and, even with his passing, the idea of the Democrats losing it was unimaginable. However, as Election Day drew closer, and the lead held by the Democratic candidate, State Attorney General Martha Coakley, steadily dwindled, it became apparent that the Ted Kennedy dynasty was not enough to ensure a Democratic victory. Scott Brown eventually passed Martha Coakley in the polls, and by the end of January 19 had claimed the election with 52 per cent of the vote.
In the lead up to the race, the media began heralding the Massachusetts special election as a referendum on the Obama administration and the Democrats maintaining control of the seat was claimed to be essential for the passage of Democratic legislation. Jim Acosta of CNN reported that "The Scott Brown victory . . . would essentially dash the hopes for a passage of health care reform." Barack Obama, in a two-minute web video, also endorsed the idea that the supermajority preserved by the seat was necessary for his agenda: "The outcome of these and other fights will probably rest on one vote in the United States Senate . . . That's why what happens Tuesday in Massachusetts is so important." As a result, Obama ventured to Massachusetts hoping that his political capital would engender a win for the Democrats and Coakley. Obama's appearance in Massachusetts was not able to save the faltering Coakley, however, and the Democratic dynasty came to an end.
Almost instantaneously, the media began trumpeting the loss as devastating to Obama and the Democratic Party. From right-wing pundits such as Bill O'Reilly of Fox News claiming "There's no question the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts has badly damaged the Democratic agenda," to the more left-wing reporting of MSNBC's Tim Curry stating Martha Coakley's loss had left "President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in doubt . . . marring the end of [Obama's] first year in office."
Now, let me just put this in perspective for you: health care legislation will supposedly die in the Senate because the Coakley loss has left the Democrats with an 18-seat majority . . . which is more than George Bush ever had when he, to quote Jon Stewart, "did whatever the fuck he wanted." The Democrats, even with the loss, have maintained a greater majority in the Senate than the Republicans have had since 1923, and in the House of Representatives the Democrats still lead the Republicans by 78 seats. Essentially, if health care reform legislation, or other such pillars of the Democratic agenda, do not pass, it will be a symptom of the Democratic Party's disunity, not the loss of one Senate seat.
This special election was not a referendum on the Obama administration and certainly not on health care. In fact, the Massachusetts' health care system is more progressive than the legislation currently making its way through the House and the Senate. The Democratic loss was a result of the poor campaign by Martha Coakley, who, in campaign material, spelled her state as "Masschusettes," and told the Boston Globe, in response to a question about her passivity, "As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?" Essentially, the Democrats were much too confident heading into this election and Scott Brown capitalized. All they can do now is learn from it and move on.