(RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's Democratic Party has suffered a major defeat, losing to the rival Republican Party the U.S. Senate seat that was held for decades by the late Edward Kennedy.
Republican state legislator Scott Brown defeated the Democratic candidate, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, in a special election on January 19, dealing a double blow to Obama.
It deprives his Democratic Party of the crucial 60th seat it needs to override Republican efforts to block his major legislative plans, such as health-care reform. From now on, Obama must rely on negotiation and compromise to get his bills passed, and there is precious little goodwill for that on the floor of the Senate.
It is also a heavy psychological blow to the president and his party, in that they have lost what until now has been a gilt-edged Democratic seat. It was occupied for almost 50 years by Kennedy, who died last year, and before that by his brother John F. Kennedy, who went on to become U.S. president.
In a video posted to his website before the vote, Obama had set out in stark terms the importance of retaining the seat.
"In Washington, I'm fighting to curb the abuses of a health industry that routinely denies care. I'm fighting for financial reform to stop Wall Street from playing havoc with our economy. I'm fighting to create a new, clean energy economy," Obama said. "It's clear now that the outcome of these and other fights will probably rest on one vote in the United States Senate. That's why what happens Tuesday in Massachusetts is so important."
But his appeal fell on deaf ears as the voters of Massachusetts vented their anger at the country's continuing economic hardships and an unemployment rate in double figures. Coakley garnered only 47 percent of the vote, compared to Brown's 52 percent.
'It Will Destroy Jobs'
Brown is a dogged critic of health-care reform, which Obama intends should bring insurance to some 36 million Americans who presently do not have any coverage.
"One thing is very, very clear as I travel throughout the state," Brown said at a campaign rally in Boston. "People do not want the trillion-dollar health-care plan that is being forced...on the American people."
And he struck an ominous note that he intends to continue to oppose the health-care bill with tooth and nail in his powerful new job.
"This [health-care] bill is not being debated openly and fairly," he said. "It will raise taxes. It will hurt Medicare. It will destroy jobs and run our nation deeper into debt."
But health care is not the only high-profile Obama initiative that's at risk. There is also financial regulation reform, among other things. It will now be more difficult for Democrats to win Senate passage of their proposals to tighten bank and capital market oversight.
The Democrats want to overhaul financial regulations to prevent a repeat of the 2008 banking crisis and the recession and bank bailouts that followed. Banks and Wall Street finance houses strongly oppose the measure, as have many Republicans.
Nervous Democrats must now take stock of their posture for the coming November congressional elections, whether to stick even more firmly to Obama's wide reform program, or whether to trim their sails to the apparent more somber mood of the electorate.
It's a far cry from just a year ago, when Obama was swept into the White House on a wave of euphoria about his promises to rejuvenate and reinvigorate the nation.
with agency reports