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Scott Brown’s Massachusetts win fueled by independent voters

In 2008, most independent voters went for Obama. But Scott Brown's US Senate victory in Massachusetts shows that, even in a liberal state, independents won't necessarily stick with him.

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“This is not a Democrat/Republican thing. This is an incumbent/newcomer thing,” says Ralph Polis, a registered independent. “The people defied the machine and the money.… It can happen and it happened right here in Massachusetts.”

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But their abandonment of Obama was also based on more than just the issues, and it will have broad implications for Obama the Democratic party.

“The swing of independent voters to Republican candidates has changed the whole equation,” says Todd Domke, a GOP strategist based in Massachusetts. “Independents are not just angry because they disagree with Obama’s policies, but because they felt betrayed by him and leaders of Congress breaking their promises of transparency.”

Like Obama, Brown said he'd change the status quo

Part of Obama’s appeal for independents, says Mr. Domke, was his promise to change the status quo in Washington, something Brown has promised as well.

In fact, while their styles are markedly different, Brown and Obama may have appealed to independent voters for similar reasons – their direct approach and assertion that Washington is not functioning as it should.

To get independents back, Domke thinks Obama should acknowledge his errors – admit he went “too left, too partisan, and that he did go along with Washington.”

But there might be another option: fix the economy.

“Democrats have gotten a year, usually they’d get two, but voters are already rendering a judgment,” says Professor Stewart. “They’re saying, ‘Things haven’t gotten better. Make things better.’ ”

With the 2010 midterm elections just nine months away, improving the economy must become Obama’s No. 1 priority.

“You can’t mask the economy with commercials or slogans,” says Jeffrey Barry, a political scientist at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. “This election was all about the economy. And it’s the recession that Barack Obama now owns.”

The popular message of former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign still stands, says Mr. Barry: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

• Staff writer Christa Case Bryant contributed to this report.

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