BOSTON — Republican Scott Brown, fresh from a stunning Massachusetts Senate victory that shook the power balance on Capitol Hill, declared Wednesday that his election had sent a "very powerful message" that voters are weary of backroom deals and Washington business-as-usual.
Democrats scrambled to explain the loss, which imperils President Barack Obama's agenda for health care and other hard-fought domestic issues. Republicans greeted their victory with clear glee.
"The president ought to take this as a message to recalibrate how he wants to govern, and if he wants to govern from the middle we'll meet him there," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Obama said the Massachusetts vote reflected the mood around the country. "People are angry, and they're frustrated," he said in an interview with ABC News.
Democrats still exercise majority control over both the House and Senate. But Tuesday's GOP upset to win the seat long held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy — following Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey last fall for gubernatorial seats that had been held by Democrats — signals challenges for Democratic prospects in midterm elections this year. Even when the economy is not bad, the party holding the White House historically loses seats in midterms.
"If there's anybody in this building that doesn't tell you they are more worried about elections today, you should absolutely slap them," Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri told reporters at the Capitol. "Of course everybody is more worried about elections. Are you kidding? It's what this place thrives on."
Brown, in his first meeting with reporters after the special election, portrayed his victory as less a referendum on Obama or the president's health care proposal and more of a sign that people are tired of Washington politics and dealmaking.
He said his victory sends "a very powerful message that business-as-usual is just not going to be the way we do it."
"I think it's important that we hit the ground running," Brown said. He said he would pay a courtesy call to the nation's capital on Thursday.
Video: Time to get to work, Brown says "Game's over. Let's get to work," he added. It was not clear how quickly he would be sworn in, but Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia said the Senate should not hold any further votes on health care until Brown is seated. That, said McConnell, probably means there will be no further Senate action until then.
At the White House, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said the president agreed with Webb. Brown won the election and "no one is going to circumvent that," Axelrod told MSNBC.
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Brown's victory gives Republicans 41 votes in the Senate, upending the Democrats' ability to stop filibusters and other delaying tactics. Counting the two Senate independents who usually vote with Democrats on procedural issues, the party will be able to muster only 59 votes, at most, one short of the number needed.
Brown said that, while he planned to caucus with Republicans, "I'm not beholden to anybody."
Democrats were licking their wounds and demonstrating that they got the message from voters and were willing to reach out.
White House tourists even got a surprise Wednesday when first lady Michelle Obama showed up as their greeter to mark the end of Obama's first year as president. She brought the family dog, Bo, to the Blue Room. She chatted with guests and hugged many of them as they filed in.
Video: Brown’s win to spur GOP comeback? Obama himself grimly faced a need to regroup in a White House shaken by the realization of what a difference a year made.
In addition to searching for ways to salvage the health care overhaul, the Democratic Party also faced a need to determine how to assuage an angry electorate, and particularly attract independent voters who have fled to the GOP after a year of Wall Street bailouts, economic stimulus spending and enormous budget deficits.
There was a sense that if Republicans could win in one of the country's most traditionally liberal states, Massachusetts, they could probably win anywhere.
"I think every state is now in play, absolutely," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Brown rode a wave of voter anger to defeat Democrat Martha Coakley, the attorney general who had been considered a surefire winner until just days ago. Her loss signaled big political problems for Obama and the Democratic Party this fall when House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot nationwide.
As if in a nod to voter disgust with Washington, Obama signed a directive Wednesday aimed at stopping government contracts from going to tax-delinquent companies. "We need to insist on the same sense of responsibility in Washington that so many of you strive to uphold in your own lives, in your own families and in your own businesses," Obama said.
Video: Election wasn’t about one issue, say W.H. officials Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama's Republican presidential rival in 2008, likened Brown's win to the Revolutionary War's "shot heard 'round the world" in Concord, Mass., in April 1775. McCain said the message was clear: "No more business as usual in Washington. Stop this unsavory sausage-making process."
White House officials acknowledged that one of the lessons from Massachusetts was the intensity of voter anger, but they said it wasn't so much with Obama as with Washington's failures in general and with the moribund economy.
"There are messages here. We hear those messages," said Axelrod. "There is a general sense of discontent about the economy. And there is a general sense of discontent about this town"
Congressional Democrats were urging their House and Senate candidates to embrace in their campaigns against Republicans the populist appeal the president had made on Sunday as he rushed to Boston to try to save Coakley and the Senate seat held by Democrats for more than a half-century.
His attempt didn't work, but House and Senate Democrats insisted that the pitch — Democrats work for the people, Republicans work for Wall Street — was simply made too late.
Brown, 50, will finish Kennedy's unexpired term, facing re-election in 2012. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged to seat Brown immediately, a hasty retreat from pre-election Democratic threats to delay his swearing-in until after the health bill passed.
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