Scott Brown, a little-known Republican state senator, rode an old pickup truck and a growing sense of unease among independent voters to an extraordinary upset Tuesday night when he was elected to fill the U.S. Senate seat that was long held by Edward M. Kennedy in the overwhelmingly Democratic state of Massachusetts.
By a decisive margin, Brown defeated Martha Coakley, the state’s Democratic attorney general, who had been considered a prohibitive favorite to win just over a month ago after she easily won the Democratic primary. With 93 percent of the vote counted, Brown had 52 percent of the vote to Coakley’s 47 percent.
An aide to Brown said at 9:20 p.m. that Coakley had called Brown to concede the race; an aide to Coakley confirmed that she had conceded.
The election left Democrats in Congress scrambling to salvage a bill overhauling the nation’s health care system, which the late Kennedy had called “the cause of my life.” Brown has vowed to oppose the bill, and once he takes office the Democrats will lose their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
Beyond the bill, the election of a candidate supported by the Tea Party movement also represented an unexpected reproach by many voters to President Barack Obama after his first year in office, and struck fear into the hearts of Democratic lawmakers, who are already worried about their prospects later this year in the midterm elections.
Brown was able to appeal to independents who were anxious about the economy and concerned about the direction taken by Democrats, now that they control all the branches of government, both on Beacon Hill and in Washington. He rallied his supporters when he said, at the last debate, that he was running not for Kennedy’s seat but for “the people’s seat.”
That seat, held for nearly half a century by Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate, will now be held by a Republican who has said he supports waterboarding as an interrogation technique for terrorism suspects; opposes a federal cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions; and opposes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants unless they leave the country.
It was a sharp swing of the pendulum, but even Democratic voters said they wanted the Obama administration to change direction.
“I’m hoping that it gives a message to the country,” said Marlene Connolly, 73, of North Andover, a lifelong Democrat who said she cast her first vote for a Republican on Tuesday. “I think if Massachusetts puts Brown in, it’s a message of ‘that’s enough.’ Let’s stop the giveaways and let’s get jobs going.”
Brown ran strongest in the suburbs of Boston, where the independent voters who make up a majority in Massachusetts turned out in large numbers. Coakley did best in urban areas, overwhelmingly winning in Boston and running ahead in Springfield, Worcester, Fall River and New Bedford, but her margins were not large enough to carry her to victory.
Coakley’s defeat, in a state that Obama won in 2008 with 62 percent, led to a round of finger-pointing among Democrats. Some criticized her tendency for gaffes — she offended Red Sox fans when she incorrectly suggested that Curt Schilling was a Yankee fan — while others criticized a lackluster, low-key campaign.