Political experts assessed the special Senate race for the Washington Post:
Douglas Schoen, Democratic pollster and author
The defeat of Martha Coakley represents a complete repudiation of President Obama's domestic agenda, going well beyond health care. Massachusetts voters made it clear with the decisive victory they gave to Republican Scott Brown that they want and expect the administration to pursue a dramatically different approach.
First and foremost, the Democrats need to prioritize jobs and develop a bold new agenda to revitalize the economy.
Next, health care legislation is dead in its present form. This defeat, however, does not mean that the American people are opposed to all efforts to change the system. Rather, it means health care reform must be done incrementally, with greater emphasis on cost containment and market-based reforms.
Finally, Democrats must reduce the size and scope of government and make deficit reduction a high priority. The worst thing the Obama administration can do would be to double down, become more confrontational and pursue a populist agenda. Following this path could produce a calamitous result in the midterm elections that would make the 1994 defeat look modest.
Ed Rogers, chairman of BGR Group; White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush
After the Virginia and New Jersey losses, there was a red light flashing on the White House political dashboard. Now flames are shooting out from under the hood.
It appears that the public is revolting against the liberal agenda of President Obama and the Democrats. None of the recent elections — in Massachusetts, Virginia or New Jersey — has had much to do with the status of the Republican Party.
Democrats are losing because they are doing things that are bad for the economy and detrimental to Americans' hopes for a more prosperous future. The longer this denial of the obvious continues, the more elections Democrats will lose. Perhaps the Obama crowd is too smart for their own good and cannot see this absolute truth.
The president's policies are unpopular, but most Americans still wish Obama well. He needs to find Bill Clinton's laser beam and focus on the economy. Obama is seen as part of the economic problem rather than part of the solution.
The president should take control of the party, fire the anemic DNC chairman, and personally make the calls and have the meetings to stop the retirements of Democrats in Congress. No-drama Obama would be well-served by a little panic.
And the best thing the Democrats could do now for Republicans would be to game or delay the seating of Sen. Scott Brown.
Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
What if Rep. Mike Capuano had beaten Martha Coakley in the Democratic Senate primary? Immediately, Capuano would have started aggressively defining Scott Brown and would have kept his foot on Brown's neck; Capuano also would have carried out a strong voter identification and turnout effort. Chances are he would have kept the Senate seat in Democratic hands.
But Coakley's abysmal campaign was not the only factor contributing to this embarrassing setback for Democrats. Had Capuano won, it would probably have been by a narrower margin than a "normal" result for a Democrat in the Bay State, reflecting the deep populist anger that voters feel almost across the board.
Democrats face an excruciating choice: Go forward with health reform in the face of a backlash represented by Massachusetts voters (whose attitude in part was, "We already had our health reform") — or step back from it and face the humiliation of a defeat on a signature issue, akin to the Clinton health plan's wipeout in 1994, which contributed substantially to Democrats' devastating midterm losses.
President Obama has two larger challenges: How do you prevail in Congress with a nasty, aggressive minority party suddenly riding high? And how do you and congressional Democrats respond to flaring populist anger and new desire for change — change from the candidate of change inaugurated just one year ago?
For Republicans, this upset victory should not obscure two facts. First, this is no embrace of the GOP. Second, the challenge of riding a populist tiger without having it turn on you — and of trying to present an alternative approach to governance while regularly voting no — is going to be plenty daunting.