You’d have to be eligible for Social Security to remember the last time a Republican sat in the Senate seat made vacant last year when Ted Kennedy died. Scott Brown is the first Republican to win the seat since Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. won it in 1946.
On Tuesday, the citizens of Massachusetts voted in a special election to fill the seat with Brown, favoring the former Cosmopolitan centerfold by 52 percent to 47 percent for his opponent, Democrat Martha Coakley.
Democrats have occupied this seat since 1952, when John F. Kennedy defeated Lodge. Seven years later, the eldest of the Kennedy brothers resigned after winning the presidency. Massachusetts Gov. Foster Furcolo, himself a Democrat, then appointed Kennedy family friend Ben Smith to the seat. Smith kept it warm from December 1960 until November 1962, when the president’s younger brother, Ted, was sworn into office.
Ted Kennedy held the seat for 46 years, longer than most Americans have been alive. Combined, the Kennedy brothers held the Senate seat for more than half a century. No wonder people have referred to it as the Kennedy Senate seat.
Observers initially thought the race would be a cakewalk for the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley. However, the American people — pushing back against big government and health care control — combined with a lackluster, fumbling campaign and a fabulous Republican candidate turned the tables.
President Obama has been falling in the polls since last spring. The election of Republican Govs. Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia last fall proved that the message of limited government and fiscal responsibly resonates with voters.
The last straw might have been the Democrats’ attempt to push through health care legislation in backrooms without the transparency Obama had promised.
As for Democratic campaign fumbles, there were many. Coakley’s campaign misspelled the state in her campaign literature: "Massachusettes."
Coakley appeared totally out of touch with reality when she said: "I think we have done what we are going to be able to do in Afghanistan. ... we believed that the Taliban was giving harbor to terrorists. ... They’re gone. They’re not there anymore." Don’t they have newspapers in Boston?
In an attempt to defend her campaign style, Coakley said: "As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park in the cold? Shaking hands?" Which is what Brown was doing. Well, yes, that might have been a good place to start for a Massachusetts politician seeking a job.
When asked about Curt Schilling’s support of her opponent, Coakley dismissed Schilling as "another Yankee fan." Not a good thing when referring to a Red Sox pitcher who in 2004 helped defeat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
Combined, Coakley’s gaffes drew a picture of an out-of-touch, ill-informed candidate.
In contrast, Brown was an almost perfect candidate. Almost perfect is actually better than perfect, since any little flaws only embellish his authenticity (a quality some believe Brown’s mentor, Mitt Romney, lacks). Brown, an airborne lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts National Guard with 30 years service, was pictured nude, but appropriately positioned, in a 1982 issue of Cosmopolitan as the winner of "America’s sexiest man" when he was a 22-year-old law student at Boston College.
Brown is energetic, athletic, handsome, articulate and optimistic. His wife Gail Huff is a television reporter who was not visible on the campaign trail due to her career. His daughters, Ayla, a basketball player at Boston College and American Idol semifinalist, and Arianna, a pre-med student at Syracuse University, were involved and supportive of their father.
Brown’s victory speech echoed his optimism. "We can do better," he said about the health care bill.
We can do better, and we want candidates who share our belief.
Election nights are special. They remind us of how our nation differs from others. Our citizens have the right, the responsibility, to vote, to choose their representatives.
Tuesday’s election should remind all elected officials that the people decide who can conduct the people’s business. There are no inherited or entitled seats in the United States, and candidates should not assume that they are safe because of their party affiliation — even in a traditionally blue state like Massachusetts.
What they should assume is that they are elected to represent the American people — and if they do not, they will soon join the 10 percent of other Americans who are looking for a job.
Elected officials need to remember that the power they wield is on loan from the American people. These same voters can revoke that power if they so desire.
Can you just imagine Cosmopolitan’s next advertisement, "From Centerfold to Senator?"
Jackie Gingrich Cushman founded and is chairman of the board of the Learning Makes a Difference Foundation.