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Democrats in trouble

President Barack Obama and the Democrats rode a wave of anger aimed at the presidency of George W. Bush to victories in 2006 and 2008. Now, a year to the day after Obama was sworn into office, in a dramatic reversal of fortunes, populist anger has turned sharply against the president and his party.

world Updated: Jan 21, 2010 00:51 IST
Dan Balz

President Barack Obama and the Democrats rode a wave of anger aimed at the presidency of George W. Bush to victories in 2006 and 2008. Now, a year to the day after Obama was sworn into office, in a dramatic reversal of fortunes, populist anger has turned sharply against the president and his party.

The politics of discontent rolled across Massachusetts in stunning fashion on Tuesday, delivering the seat held for more than four decades by the late Senator Edward Kennedy to the Republican state Senator Scott Brown in an upset of historic proportions.

Gloomy Democrats were left to wonder whether they and Obama have an answer to the anger that can head off devastating losses in the November midterm elections and faced more potential fractures within their ranks.

Without exit polls, it was difficult to say with any precision how independents voted in Massachusetts. But there was no way Brown could have won a state where Democrats have a huge edge over Republicans in registration without a significant margin among independents.

Democratic strategists privately heaped criticism on Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley as a lackluster candidate and on her campaign as asleep at the switch until it was too late.

But the real debate for the Democrats will be how to proceed. Now the issue is whether they can agree how to pass a health care bill.

Many factors may have contributed to what happened in Massachusetts, but as Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution put it, the “inchoate fear and anger and unhappiness” with the general state of the country helped put a once-safe seat at risk.

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