“The independent voice of Massachusetts has spoken,” proclaimed Senator-elect Scott Brown during his victory speech on Tuesday. Following a shocking election result which has no doubt already rocked the Washington political establishment, a Republican will take the Massachusetts Senate seat that was occupied by Ted Kennedy for nearly half a century. The success of the GOP in a state that has not elected a Republican senator since 1972 and currently has a congressional delegation made up entirely of Democrats, has indicated to many on both sides of the aisle that change is underway in 2010. The central question arising out of the results of Brown’s victory is whether it will actually bring real change to Washington?
It seems like change was the theme for Democrats running in many national races only 14 short months ago – most notably the presidential race. A large part of President Obama’s victory – which, like Scott Brown’s victory, was made possible by independent voters – was grounded in the belief that his candidacy offered a fresh difference from the typical Washington politician. Voters saw Obama as someone who could usher in real change to the way business was typically conducted in the capital city. While many might agree that his first year in office has brought about change, just as many or more (54% according to the latest Rasmussen poll) would likely say that it has not been change for the better. Now the president has lost his supermajority (60 votes) in the Senate and, with it, likely a large part of his domestic agenda as well.
So what does this mean for the administration? What does it mean for the Democratic Party’s chances in the midterm election this November (as well as Obama’s own reelection in 2012)? Like President Clinton in 1994, Obama is potentially facing significant losses within his own party at this year’s midterm elections. However, the Brown victory has provided him with a stark warning of things to come in less than 10 months and quite possibly a great opportunity, depending on how his administration reacts to it. If Obama continues to pursue healthcare reform in the manner he has thus far, his party will likely suffer devastating losses in the fall, perhaps losing both houses of Congress altogether.
However, if the president takes a page out of Clinton’s book – following the 1994 midterm elections – he could potentially mitigate such a catastrophic loss for his party and keep Congress in Democratic hands. That would probably require a dramatic “shift to the right” on his administration’s part. Treating terrorists like terrorists instead of criminals and more a moderate domestic agenda would probably be good starting points in pursuit of that goal. Time will tell if Obama successfully reacts to the political warning/opportunity he has received this past week from Massachusetts. While 10 months may not seem like a great deal of time to some, it can amount to a couple lifetimes in politics.