January 20, 2010
Posted: 03:51 PM ET
Scott Brown has turned this town upside down.
Usually, the tendency among political reporters and operatives alike is to overreact and overinterpret elections.
And there are caveats to the stunner in Massachusetts. Yes, this was a special election, which often produces unusual results. Yes, Democrat Martha Coakley ran a timid, sometimes terrible, campaign for Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. And it’s true that Massachusetts is not as liberal as many people assumed.
But none of that counters the stunning reality of an election where breathtaking results more than justify breathless analysis. Here’s why:
The lock is broken
There is no way for Democrats to spin an upside to losing their 60th vote in the Senate.
Without it, the health care bill that passed one month ago with 60 votes would go down today. Same goes for any other bill Republicans decide to torpedo with unity, obstruction or whatever one wants to call zero votes.
There are ways Democrats can jam through the current health care bill with procedural tricks or legislative creativity. But what seemed a certainty a week ago feels unlikely today. Don't take the word of Republicans or even reporters on this one. Listen to what Democrats are saying as they appraised the results overnight:
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) told a local reporter, “It’s probably back to the drawing board on health care, which is unfortunate.” Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) told MSNBC this morning he will advise Democratic leaders to scrap the big bill and move small, more popular pieces that can attract Republicans. And Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said his leadership is “whistling past the graveyard” if they think Brown’s win won’t force a rethinking of the health care plan.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who now might draw a challenge from Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), said the party needs to rethink its entire approach to governing.
The fear is unleashed
Any Democrat with even the faintest fear of a tough race in 2010 is rattled. It was easy for some to rationalize the defeats in New Jersey and Virginia last year — and even the flood of polls showing bad news since then.
They are in denial no more: If Democrats can lose in Massachusetts, they can lose anywhere. That is the mind-set that will shape the next nine months for Democrats. It will affect who runs for reelection, who bolts on big votes, who gives money and who speaks out against Obama. All of this will make governing harder.
The focus has been on the special election for the past week. But Democratic insiders were equally concerned about other signs of trouble that got insufficient notice: Polls show Democrats could lose the New York Senate seat, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson’s favorable ratings plummeted in Nebraska, new polls showed Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) trailing badly in his swing district, and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) is in a statistical tie and in more trouble than previously expected.
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