American voters still haven't found the change that they're looking for.
That may be the national message delivered Tuesday by citizens of Massachusetts in their stunning election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate seat held for nearly 50 years by Democratic icon Edward Kennedy.
Barack Obama promised national political change when he was elected 15 months ago, but since then the economy has struggled and unemployment has soared, while financial and auto firms got bailed out and bankers continued to award themselves fat bonuses.
"The implications from Massachusetts are very national," says Allan Lichtman, a professor of political history at American University. "Clearly voters wanted to send a message to Washington about how little they perceive is being done on behalf of average Americans."
New Republican star
On the day after he defeated Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in a state that has not elected a GOP Senator in decades, Mr. Brown already has become a star in a party starved for fresh, charismatic faces.
In a press conference Wednesday, Brown portrayed his victory less as a referendum on specific Obama policies, such as healthcare reform, and more as a symbol of national fatigue with the politics of same-old, same-old.
The win sends "a very powerful message that business-as-usual is just not going to be the way we do it," said Brown.
That's an answer that could have come straight from a press conference held last year by president-elect Obama.
Mr. Obama himself on Wednesday acknowledged that the Brown victory had changed the national political picture. He told Senate Democrats it would be inadvisable to try and jam a healthcare bill through Congress before Brown can be sworn in.
"The people of Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of that process," said Obama.
What will become of the healthcare reform effort, the White House does not yet know. Or at least, officials are not yet talking publicly about how their strategy might change.
"There are a number of different ways to do this," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, adding that the way forward would become clearer in the "hours and days" ahead.
A rejection of ... what?
The Massachusetts race was only one election, of course. But it follows Democratic losses in big gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virgina.
"Democrats actually have a string of defeats dating back to last fall," says Costas Panagopoulos, a political scientist at Fordham University. [Editor's note: The original version of this story misspelled Mr. Panagopoulos's name.]
GOP leaders on Tuesday were insisting that these losses show Americans are rejecting Obama's big-government approach to national problems.
Mr. Panagopoulos says that what voters are dissatisfied with is not big government per se, so much as the specifics of what the White House and congressional Democrats have tried to do.
They have watched Democrats cut deals to try and get healthcare reform through, while partisan bickering in Washington has, if anything, only increased.
"Obama promised tremendous change in Washington," says Panagopoulos. "[Voters] trusted him, forgetting how hard accomplishing change actually is."
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