| 15.1°C Dublin

The former centrefold who could finally kill Obama's health plans

He's the most unlikely man to topple Barack Obama's plans -- but voters have replaced Ted Kennedy with a former centrefold model.

In a massive political shock, Republican Scott Brown won the US Senate seat long held by Kennedy, dealing a huge blow to Obama and his health care overhaul plan just as the president concludes his first year in office.

With Brown's victory in Massachusetts last night over Martha Coakley, Senate Democrats lost the 60-vote supermajority needed to achieve Obama's top goals. That could spell doom for the health care bill and make it more difficult to pass legislation on climate change and other top White House priorities.

The vote bodes poorly for Democrats ahead of November's congressional elections. If they cannot win in a Democratic stronghold, defending Kennedy's seat against a relatively unknown state senator like Brown, they could be vulnerable almost anywhere.

Democratic lawmakers could read the results as a vote against Obama's broader agenda, weakening their support for the president. And the results could scare some Democrats from seeking office.

Just weeks ago, Coakley, the state attorney general, had a double-digit lead in polls and seemed destined to win.


Her defeat was an embarrassment for the White House after Obama rushed to Boston on Sunday to try to save her campaign.

Brown led by 52pc to 47pc with all but 3pc of precincts counted. Turnout was exceptional for a special election in January, taking everyone by surprise.

Coakley called Brown conceding the race -- and she said the president told her: "We can't win them all."

The election highlighted the dramatic reversal for Democrats one year after the euphoria of his inauguration as the first black US president.

The anti-incumbent mood that lifted the party in the 2008 election is now pushing against Democrats, with voters frustrated by high unemployment, bank and auto industry bailouts, exploding federal budget deficits and partisan wrangling over health care.

Brown's victory was the third major loss for Democrats in statewide elections since Obama became president. Republicans won governors' seats in Virginia and New Jersey in November.

Had it emerged sooner, the Cosmopolitan portrait with Brown hiding his modesty with one hand, might have put the brakes on the Brown insurgency.

Supporters of Coakley, who until a few days ago thought they had a lock on the contest, tried at the last moment to point to comments made by Brown during the 2008 presidential campaign insinuating that Obama may have been born out of wedlock. Yet such has been the fire that has propelled Brown's campaign in recent days, it is possible that not even last-minute embarrassments could have stopped it.

Driving this surge has been a welling of voter discontent with Obama, for reasons ranging from a still cruel economy and the perception of a federal government turned bloated and profligate in Washington. Coakley saw her once 30pc-point lead evaporate in just days.

But Democrat leaders on Capitol Hill are still insisting that a way would be found to get the health bill on to the President's desk for signature. "There is no 'back to the drawing board'," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. But anything that looks like legislative trickery could bring a nasty backlash for Democrats with a new poll showing that only 44pc of Americans now support the reform plan, with 51pc opposed. With midterm elections due in November, the governing party cannot risk alienating voters any further.


As for the Cosmopolitan spread, which appeared in the June 1982 issue, Brown was at Boston College in the midst of his final law exams when it was shot.

Though he surely cannot have known that one day he would compete to fill the shoes of Teddy Kennedy, he did give a hint as to his future ambitions in a brief interview when he admitted to being a "bit of a patriot".

Adding to the Democrats' dismay is that Brown won Kennedy's seat by promising to oppose the healthcare overhaul -- an issue closely identified with the liberal champion, who died in August.

Obama has made health care his signature issue, looking to revamp an expensive, inefficient system that leaves nearly 50 million people uninsured. Republicans say the plans would lead to higher taxes and government meddling in health care decisions.

Democrats have pushed health care close to enactment, passing separate bills in both chambers of Congress. In the Senate, Obama needed every vote in the Democrats' 60-member caucus to overcome Republican procedural hurdles.

But another Senate vote will likely be necessary and, once Brown takes office, Democrats will no longer have those 60 votes.

There was speculation that Democrats might try to delay seating Brown to win more time to pass health care.