1. Why Scott Brown won There were three key factors to a Scott Brown victory: national trends, relatively lower Democratic turnout, and Scott Brown as the superior candidate.
National Trends. Nationally, Democrats down 9% from 2008. The current national House ballot shows Democrats ahead by 0.67%. In 2008, they won by 9.65%. Scott Brown needed a 26% swing from 2008, and got 9% of it from the national political environment.
Lower Democratic turnout. With the exception of Rasmussen, the generic ballot polls in the national House forecast are currently measuring "all adults" or "registered voters" instead of "likely voters." When they start measuring "likely voters," current evidence indicates they will probably find another 2-3% swing in favor of Republicans, based on a relative lack of Democratic enthusiasm.
The earliest polls on the campaign in January, UNH and Rasmussen, showed Coakley ahead by an average of 13%. So, two weeks ago, Scott Brown was just where the national political environment and relatively low Democratic enthusiasm would have put him.
Running a better campaign. Scott Brown made up the rest of the difference by being the superior candidate with the superior campaign. The final On Message, Rasmussen, Cross Target, PPP and Research 2000 polls showed, on average, Scott Brown with a net favorable rating 18% higher than Coakley's. That is the rest of the swing right there.
Given their relative numerical impact, ranked in terms of importance, the factors were: 1) Brown is the superior candidate, 2) national trends, 3) relatively lower Democratic turnout.
Feel free to postulate whatever unprovable, subjective and / or anecdotal explanation you like. Make sure that this explanation fits into whatever preconceived notions you have about politics. It is what everyone is doing, these days--now you can be cool, too!
What happens to health care, and what the election means, can be found in the extended entry.
2. What happens to health care? There are now three viable options for health care reform:
Health care reform fails. Despite what people say, failure is always an option. This is true no matter the endeavor in question, and no matter the stakes at hand.
The House passes the Senate bill. Since the Senate has already passed a health care bill, the House could just pass that bill and send it to President Obama's desk.
Reconciliation. The House could also pass the Senate health care bill, but additionally tack on some of the subsidies, taxes, and even a Schumer public option or 55-64 Medicare buy-in through budget reconciliation. It might be necessary to do this to win over some House Progressives.
It would seem that the #2 is the odds on favorite right now, with some extremely minor concessions to Progressive and Labor in the budget.
3. What does this mean for Democrats? It means that the situation in the country sucks, and Democrats are in charge. Unless Democrats pass legislation that will make the situation less sucky, they will get creamed in November.
If you think this is about bad messaging, or abstract ideological disagreement with how Democrats have governed, then you are just wrong:
If you think the political situation for Democrats would have been better if they had different messaging or passed different legislation, consider a simple hypothetical:
Over the past year, instead of saying and doing what they did, Democrats in D.C. and President Obama passed exactly the legislation, and engaged in exactly the sort of messaging, you suggest..
Despite doing this, current economic conditions are exactly the same as they are today.
In this hypothetical, if you think the political situation would be any different for Democrats than it is currently, then you are deluding yourself.
The political environment isn't difficult for Democrats right now because the country is opposed to what Democrats are doing in some sort of abstract, ideological and rhetorical sense. The political situation is difficult because the economy sucks. Period.
To reinforce this point, try and list the times when the economy was in a downturn, but approval of the governing party was in an upswing. Outside of post-election honeymoons and the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, you simply are not going to find any examples. At all.
If you are not facing scandals, and times are good, then you will be popular no matter what you pass into law. This is about being in power when times are bad.
In order to pass legislation that will start to make the situation in the country better, and thus make themselves more popular, Democrats are going to have to get rid of the filibuster. With the 60-vote Senate, there was never much of a chance to pass the legislation necessary to start the country in the right direction. Now, there is even less of a chance--virtually none, really.
All Democratic leaders are going to have to ask themselves a question: do they want to make the country better, or are concerns over obscure arguments about the need for a "deliberative body" more important to them? Would they rather be able to govern for the next three years, or are they afraid of a few news cycles where Republicans accuse them of not being bipartisan enough?
That is the choice that leading Democrats face right now. Even though we can help organize and apply pressure, this is still fundamentally a choice the Democratic Senate caucus faces, not us.