In the wake of Republican Scott Brown's stunning defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley in the race to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, the debate has begun about what the outcome means for President Obama and Democrats nationwide.
Brown won 52 percent of voters to Coakley's 47 percent in Tuesday's special Senate election. Coakley, the state attorney general, had a 30-point lead three months ago.
Republicans believe a win in the bluest of blue states, where a Republican had not been elected to the U.S. Senate since 1972, amounts to a popular rebuke of the president's agenda.
"There's been a pattern here that began last spring, and the administration has refused to acknowledge what the people out across the country have been saying," GOP chairman Michael Steele said on "Good Morning America" today.
"For the Democrats, this is clearly not the change they expected, but it's certainly the change the people of Massachusetts -- like the people in New Jersey and Virginia -- wanted," Steele said.
Steele called the outcome in Massachusetts a "repudiation" of Democrats' health care overhaul legislation pending in Congress, saying 41 Republican votes in the Senate now effectively kill the bill in its current form. Democrats needed to retain 60 votes to prevent a Republican filibuster.
"Start from scratch. Start by listening to the people," Steele advised his Democratic colleagues on health care.
For his part, Brown had campaigned in opposition to the Obama health care proposal, saying he would vote against the bill if elected.
"One thing is very, very clear as I travelled throughout the state," Brown, a lawyer and former model, said in his acceptance speech last night. "People do not want the trillion-dollar heath care plan that is being forged."
But many Democrats rebutted the notion that Brown's victory is a major statement on Obama and the Democrat's legislative agenda, including health care overhaul.
"We won the House and Senate in 2006, we won the White House in 2008. ... People sent the unmistakable message they wanted change. We have to deliver on that," former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said on "GMA."
"The Republicans have chosen their path: They are doing the bidding of insurance companies, just as they're going to do with big banks as it relates to financial reform. We have a good health care plan, and we need to pass that," Plouffe said.
The White House has previously deflected suggestions that a Brown victory would amount to a referendum on the Obama presidency, vowing to move ahead on its agenda.
"I think there's a tremendous amount of upset and anger in this country about where we are economically," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday.
Asked whether he believed Americans are now attaching that frustration with Washington to Obama, Gibbs said, "I think there is certainly some attachment to us."
Still, the administration and many Democrats plan to continue pursuing their agenda "full speed ahead."