Two years ago, the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy backed Barack Obama for president and said these famous words, "I feel change in the air."
Last night change came, but as a sort-of back-handed slap to the man Kennedy endorsed for president. And voters released the 57-year Democratic stronghold on Kennedy's Senate seat to Republican state Sen. Scott Brown.
"From the Berkshires to Boston, from Springfield to Cape Cod, the voters of this Commonwealth defied the odds and the experts. And tonight, the independent majority has delivered a great victory," Brown said at his rally last night.
Across the state, Brown took 52 percent of the vote to Attorney General Martha Coakley's 47 percent with as many as 55 percent of the state's voters trekking out into the snow to cast ballots.
The Merrimack Valley communities joined the tea party giving their votes to Brown - all except Lawrence which gave Coakley one of her few victories north of Boston.
"Anyone who has been out on the campaign trail in this race has seen the anger of folks who are angry and concerned," Coakley said in her concession speech. "They are angry about health care issues and they are angry about our two wars."
Yesterday, Brown took 65 percent of the vote in Methuen and North Andover, while in Andover he took 58 percent of the vote. Haverhill came in at 60 percent for Brown. In the Immigrant City, Lawrence voters gave Coakley 65 percent over Brown's 34 percent.
"Voting for Scott Brown is an opportunity to send a message to Washington: Stop trying to shove things down our throat," said retired postal employee Linda Albers, 45, of Bradford. "They (politicians) are here to serve us, not the other way around."
"It's almost like it's being crammed down our throats," said 50-year-old Ken Sawaya of Andover. "This closed-door politics stuff is garbage. You've got to have a balance of power."
Voters see red in blue state
In the bluest of blue states, the election was seen, at least in part, as a referendum on Obama, on health care reform, on the Democratic majority that had controlled two of three branches of government for a year.
One day shy of the first anniversary of Obama's swearing-in, the election played out amid a backdrop of animosity and resentment from voters over persistently high unemployment, Wall Street bailouts, exploding federal budget deficits and partisan wrangling over health care.
Henry Bradley, 58, of Methuen who voted for Brown, summed it up best, saying he's "sick and tired of all the stuff that's going on — health care, taxes, the way the economy is."
Brown's numbers in the Merrimack Valley were much like those seen when Obama was elected over John McCain in 2008. Obama took 56 percent of the vote in Andover while Brown took 58 yesterday. Haverhill gave Obama 58 percent and Brown 60 percent.
"I voted for Obama because I wanted change," echoed John Triolo, 38, a sales manager from Fitchburg. "I wanted change, I thought he'd bring it to us, but I just don't like the direction that he's heading."
In the weeks following Coakley's win in the Dec. 19 Democratic primary, Brown was considered the long-shot. Pollsters said Coakley would walk into Kennedy's seat, with some putting her ahead by as many as 25 points.
Coakley demise begins
But come Christmas, the wave of voter anger turned the tide Brown. His candidacy energized Republicans, including backers of the grass-roots "tea party" movement, while attracting disappointed Democrats and independents uneasy with where they felt the nation was heading.
More than 1,000 people lined the streets of downtown North Andover to see Brown make a campaign stop Monday night. In comparison, Coakley drew about 100 or so supporters to a stop in Newburyport Saturday.
"I listen to the news, watch the debates and based on my research I choose the best candidate. This time for me it was Scott Brown. It was time for a change in Massachusetts," said James Rydick, 32, a truck driver from Lawrence.
Last week, the polls began showing a dead heat between the two, and polls were starting to give Brown the edge.
Democratic finger-pointing soon followed, with the White House accusing Coakley of a poor campaign and the Coakley camp laying at some of the blame on the administration. Obama flew to Boston for last-ditch personal campaigning on Sunday.
When asked yesterday about Coakley and her campaign," White House spokesman David Axelrod described Obama as "surprised and frustrated" and "not pleased."
"I think the White House did everything we were asked to do," Axelrod said. "Had we been asked earlier, we would have responded earlier."
Brown's victory gives Senate Republicans the 41st vote they need to block health care legislation favored by majority Democrats and Obama. Democrats needed Coakley to win for a 60th vote to thwart Republican filibusters.
As Brown took to the state last night, a resounding chant of "41...41...41" echoed through the halls. He's promised to oppose the bill.
"I just want to defeat the health care bill," Son Truong, 55, software engineer, North Andover who voted for Brown.
Methuen resident John Mugavero, 65, taught Brown math when he was a student at Wakefield High in 1977. He said, "he turned out to be a great adult. The person he is today is the person you saw as a teenager."
But it was health care that convinced Mugavero Brown was the man to send to Washington.
"Scott is going to be the 41st vote (against the health care bill) and he's going to try to stop the Obama agenda and he's a fiscal conservative," Mugavero
Brown will fill the seat of Kennedy who died in August and campaigned hard on the message this was the "people's seat" not one simply bequeathed to a Democrat.
'The people's seat'
"I will remember that while the honor is mine, this Senate seat belongs to no one person and no political party and as I have said before, and you said loud and clear today, it is the people's seat," Brown said last night.
Kennedy was first elected to the seat in 1962 in a special election to fill the vacancy when his brother John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960. John F. Kennedy won the seat in 1953 from Republican Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.
The last Republican from Massachusetts to sit in the U.S. Senate was Edward Brooke who served from 1967 to 1979.
"I think some balance is needed in Massachusetts, politically. I think it's time to shift away from the Democratically controlled political process here," said Michael Buotte, 48, a sales manager from Andover who voted for Scott Brown.
Area towns saw heavy turnouts, almost as high as the 2008 presidential election. Andover reported 64 percent of its voters showed up at the polls, while North Andover saw 60 percent. Methuen had 49 percent of its voters cast ballots while Haverhill saw 45 percent turnout. About 28 percent of Lawrence voters went to the polls.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin said he would notify the Senate today that Brown had been elected. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the move to swear in Brown will happen "as soon as the proper paperwork has been received."
"The people of Massachusetts have spoken. We welcome Scott Brown to the Senate," Reid said.
Brown's win will certainly be one that will be analyzed by pundits and politicians for days and weeks to come. How could a Democrat lose in Massachusetts? How could Coakley blow such a lead? What does this mean for those seeking re-election at the state and national level in the fall?
For Brown, he's already found the answer in the hearts of voters.
"Fellow citizens, what happened in this election can happen all over America. We are witnesses, you and I, to the truth that ideals, hard work, and strength of heart can overcome any political machine," Brown said. "We ran a campaign never to be forgotten, and led a cause that deserved and received all that we could give it."
The Associated Press and staff writers Yadira Betances, J.J. Huggins, Brian Messenger and Mike Labella contributed to this report.