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Massachusetts Senate race: Republican Scott Brown wins seat in epic upset

Democrat Martha Coakley's defeat for the seat that Ted Kennedy held for 46 years could signal big problems for President Obama and his party.

By Glen Johnson and Liz SidotiThe Associated Press / January 19, 2010

Scott Brown supporters, Barbara Ann O'Neill, left, of Wrentham, Mass., and Jacob Porter, right, of Bucks County, Penn., wave flags before results are announced at Brown's election night headquarters in Boston, Tuesday.

Elise Amendola/AP

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Boston

In an epic upset in liberal Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown rode a wave of voter anger to defeat Democrat Martha Coakley in a U.S. Senate election Tuesday that left President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in doubt and marred the end of his first year in office.

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The loss by the once-favored Coakley for the seat that the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy held for nearly half a century signaled big political problems for the president's party this fall when House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot nationwide.

More immediately, Brown will become the 41st Republican in the 100-member Senate, which could allow the GOP to block the president's health care legislation and the rest of Obama's agenda. Democrats needed Coakley to win for a 60th vote to thwart Republican filibusters.

Democratic fingerpointing began more than a week ago as polls started showing a tight race, with the White House accusing Coakley of a poor campaign and the Coakley camp laying at some of the blame on the administration. Obama flew to Boston for last-ditch personal campaigning on Sunday.

With 87 percent of precincts counted, Brown led Coakley, 52 percent to 47 percent.

The election transformed reliably Democratic Massachusetts into a battleground state. One day shy of the first anniversary of Obama's swearing-in, it played out amid a backdrop of animosity and resentment from voters over persistently high unemployment, industry bailouts, exploding federal budget deficits and partisan wrangling over health care.

For weeks considered a long shot, Brown seized on such discontent to overtake Coakley in the final stretch of the campaign. Surveys showed his candidacy energized Republicans, including backers of the grass-roots "tea party" movement, while attracting disappointed Democrats and independents uneasy with where they felt the nation was heading.

Turnout was relatively heavy for a special election despite a mix of snow and rain showers across the state virtually all day.

Though he wasn't on the ballot, the president was on many voters' minds.

"I voted for Obama because I wanted change. ... I thought he'd bring it to us, but I just don't like the direction that he's heading," said John Triolo, 38, a registered independent who voted in Fitchburg.

He said his frustrations, including what he considered the too-quick pace of health care legislation, led him to vote for Brown.

But Robert Hickman, 55, of New Bedford, said he backed Coakley "to stay on the same page with the president."

Even before the first results were announced, administration officials were privately accusing Coakley of a poorly run campaign and playing down the notion that Obama or a toxic political landscape had much to do with the outcome.

Coakley's supporters, in turn, blamed that very environment, saying her lead dropped significantly after the Senate passed health care reform shortly before Christmas and after the Christmas Day attempted airliner bombing that Obama himself said showed a failure of his administration.

While votes were still being cast, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president "was both surprised and frustrated ... not pleased" at how competitive the race had become in the final weeks.