Brown wins US Senate seat

John Ruch

Republican Scott Brown won the Jan. 19 special election for the US Senate seat formerly held by the late Edward Kennedy.

Brown beat Democrat Martha Coakley and Libertarian Joseph L. Kennedy (no relation to the famous Kennedy dynasty) with 52 percent of the vote. Coakley won in Boston and other urban and liberal areas, but Brown triumphed in suburbs and rural areas.

Brown’s victory was a stunning smackdown to Coakley and the Democratic Party, which now will lose its supermajority in the US Senate. The race drew national attention as it became unexpectedly competitive.

President Obama came to Boston to stump for Coakley, adding to Democrats’ embarrassment and Republicans’ triumph. MSNBC stars Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow broadcast their Election Night coverage from Jamaica Plain’s famous Doyle’s Café.

Just a few weeks ago, Brown was a minor state senator from Wrentham known mostly for posing nude in a magazine centerfold and driving a pick-up truck as a macho fashion statement. He had a far lower public profile than his wife, WCVB-TV reporter Gail Huff, and even his daughter, who was a contestant on “American Idol.”

Meanwhile, Coakley, the state attorney general, was expected to sail to victory in the wake of Kennedy’s passing. She easily beat three challengers in the Democratic primary last month, including US Rep. Mike Capuano, who represents Jamaica Plain and did well in the local voting. Coakley took an aloof approach to campaigning, while Capuano was labeled as too “angry.”

But it turned out that a majority of the state’s independent voters were angry, too. Brown became their “American Idol,” while Obama told Bostonians that he understood they are “angry,” but that they should vote for Coakley anyway.

The Senate seat held by John F. and Edward Kennedy will now go to Republican hands in a state where the Republican Party barely exists. Coakley is facing political execution by fellow Democrats for her disastrous campaign.

“There are more bald eagles in Jamaica Plain than there are Republicans in the legislature,” said local City Councilor John Tobin, a Democrat. “It’s put a lot of people in trouble [politically],” he said of Coakley’s loss.

“I do think the energy in a campaign comes from the top down,” said Tobin, who supported Capuano in the primary, of Coakley’s uninspiring campaigning.

By contrast, Brown was so unknown that Tobin spotted him strolling alone on Bowdoin Street, eating an apple, a few weeks before the December primary. But as the final election neared, Brown was shaking hands on Boston streets and had a large contingent of campaign workers at major events.

Coakley’s campaign strategy appeared to be based on avoiding voters. But Coakley was also the only candidate to campaign in JP. Earlier this month, she toured J.P. Licks and other businesses with other local officials—including JP residents Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz—in tow.

Brown had pledged to vote against Obama’s health care reform legislation. He also has indicated personal opposition to gay rights and abortion, while saying he would not change existing laws protecting them.

It is unclear when Brown will be seated. Paul Kirk is serving as the interim US senator in the office. The state’s other US senator is Democrat John Kerry.

Local elected officials often work with US Senate offices on constituent services issues. Tobin said he intends to call on Brown for help, despite their political differences.

“He’s one of our two senators now. Why not use him?” Tobin said. “I’m a Democrat, but I represent a lot of independents and Republicans.”

Tobin was a high-school classmate of Brown’s chief of staff, and Brown made an unscheduled visit to a comedy roast of Tobin in West Roxbury last fall.

Voter turnout was high, despite a snowy, slushy Election Day. Access to some local polls was difficult in the morning while the snow was still falling. Curtis Hall, the city-owned building and polling place for Ward 19 Precincts 8 and 9 on South Street, drew voter complaints for having a plowed parking lot, but unshoveled sidewalks. The building’s sidewalks were shoveled later in the day. Voters at the Agassiz Elementary School, the polling place for Ward 11 Precincts 9 and 10 on South Street, faced a narrow, slushy path between parked cars and a snowbank that did not appear wide enough for wheelchair access.

David Taber contributed to this article.

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