HAVERHILL — The historic upset victory of Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley is expected to reverberate in midterm elections across the nation and here in Massachusetts.
"If a Republican can win Ted Kennedy's seat, anything is possible," said Richard Padova, a history, geography and American government professor at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill.
"If Republicans here can win the big prize, you can bet they're going to be more energized and determined to go after people like Niki Tsongas," said Padova, noting that the Bay State has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972 and that Edward Kennedy held his seat for almost 47 years until his death in August.
"You're going to see Republicans all over using the Brown playbook now — portraying themselves as the common man and the working man and tapping into voter anger and Washington insider anger," Padova said.
U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, narrowly defeated Republican Jim Ogonowski in 2007 to take the 5th Congressional District seat with 51 percent of the vote. Tsongas succeeded Democrat Martin Meehan, who held the seat for several terms before stepping down to become the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
So far, Republican Sam Meas of Haverhill is the only announced candidate against Tsongas.
"There are going to be a number of congressional races in play this year, including Tsongas," said Jack Roy, chairman of the Haverhill Republican City Committee. "That has the potential to be very good for conservatives and Republicans. But it's also going to depend on the candidate. People want non-establishment candidates who are going to listen to them."
Mary McHugh, a political science professor at Merrimack College, traced the start of Coakley's demise to a campaign hiatus the attorney general took around Christmas.
"For a whole week I saw nothing but ads with Scott Brown driving around in his pickup truck, and I remember thinking, 'Where's Martha?'" McHugh said. "And then when Coakley returned, she went straight into negative ads."
McHugh said Coakley would have been better served by reintroducing herself to voters with the kind of autobiographical ads that she used to win the primary against three other Democrats.
"She went straight into negative ads and she came across as unfriendly and unlikable to people who just started paying attention after the primary," McHugh said. "I remember an ad (Coakley) ran before the primary showing her helping an elderly lady get health care. After the primary, the only ads I can recall from Coakley are of her attacking Scott Brown."
While other issues might have played a role in the Senate race, Padova said the key was unquestionably the Democratic Party's massive governmental health care takeover proposal.
"If there's no health care plan right now, Brown's a footnote," Padova said.
In the coming months, successfully tapping the same excitement that swept Brown to victory will depend on the candidate, said Roy, the Haverhill Republican City Committee chairman.
"Obama was elected because he said he would be different, but he's not different, and people are (angry)," Roy said. "The public feels like it's being ignored on issues like health care and out-of-control Washington spending. The people want control back."
In a talk with reporters yesterday while Massachusetts polls were still open, Obama's top adviser, David Axelrod, credited Brown for running a "very clever campaign." Nonetheless, Axelrod said he doesn't believe the GOP is the answer for people frustrated with the economy and Washington politics.
"There's an awful lot of anxiety among middle-class Americans," Axelrod said.