Recently-elected Boston City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley, that body's first African-American woman, watched in shock Tuesday night at Martha Coakley's campaign gathering at the Sheraton Boston as the disappointing vote counts flowed in. "It's going to take a while," she said. "I feel very disconnected from the reality of it. It's going to take a while for it to sink in. I believed until the very end we would pull it out."
Coakley didn't, of course. She lost to State Sen. Scott Brown of Wrentham, 52 percent to 47 percent, in an election of significant note nationally that was defined by the surge of independent suburban voters into Brown's camp as the campaign wound down to election day.
Four precincts in Dorchester's Neponset enclave said "yes" to Brown: Ward 16, Precinct 7 (St. Ann's School), by 49-48, Precinct 9 (Kenny School), by 59.3 to 39.1, Precinct 10 (St. Ann's), by 54.4 to 44.6, and Precinct 12 (Florian Hall) by 55-43.
The winner will be sworn into office presently and he will take the seat held by Edward M. Kennedy from 1963 until last summer and by interim Sen. Paul Kirk for the last few months. The last Republican elected to the U.S. Senate by Massachusetts voters was Edward W. Brooke in 1972.
Brown's upset came despite the dominance of the Democratic Party at nearly every level of Massachusetts politics, and a last minute fly-in to support Coakley by President Barack Obama.
The Democratic candidate had stopped by the Eire Pub, a legendary political water hole, on Monday night, election eve, just about a month after Brown walked in the Stenson establishment after a rally at the old Dorchester Post next door. Bar patrons interviewed that night were split between Coakley and Brown, though the area is a stronghold for a number of conservatives who are also known as Reagan Democrats.
"They come here because it's a good crowd," said Paul Elwell, vice president of sales and promotion at Beantown Toys and an Eire Pub regular. "I was thrilled to see her come in here,"he said, but added that he is a political independent voting for Brown.
"This is a Catholic neighborhood,"with conservative views on abortion and gay marriage, said Brendan Price of South Boston. "I've seen Democrats representing Massachusetts for 15 years," he said, referring to the all-Democratic Congressional delegation. "To me, there should be a little bit of balance."
Others said they were supporting Coakley. John Martin, a South Boston sheet metal worker who is unemployed, said, "We're a blue city and we're going to vote for Democrats. We're not going to forget that tomorrow."
Like Coakley, he was dismissive of recent polls that showed a statistical dead heat or Brown ahead. "It happened in New Hampshire" when he campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2008, Martin said. "She was down 10 points. I've seen it before. It doesn't scare me."
Martin was right on one point: that Boston would go for Coakley. She won the city 68.6 percent to Brown's 30.2 percent. Joseph Kennedy, who is unrelated to the famous Kennedy clan, received under one percent, almost mirroring his statewide showing. Roughly 153,460 Bostonians went to the polls.
Brown's win, which many will surely see as a harbinger of great change in the national arena, ended an energetic campaign that some in the Democratic camp complained dwarfed a weak run by the state's attorney general.
"I think it's been a terribly run campaign," said City Councillor John Tobin, a West Roxbury Democrat who was among many in the Boston political delegation who supported Capuano in the Democratic primary. "This is not sour grapes," he added.
Tobin pointed to Kennedy, who had held the Senate seat for 47 years and â€œbrought passion and energy to the position. "I think we need a little bit more passion. That's why I was with Michael Capuano in the first place," he said.
Indeed, on Election Day, one website started hawking t-shirts that read, "I voted for Mike Capuano - So don't blame me." Hours after the polls closed, a group formed on the social networking site Facebook called "Draft Mike Capuano for Senate in 2012,"a reference to when Brown, who is filling out the remainder of Kennedy's term, is up for re-election.
Brown's victory didn't come as a complete surprise to political operatives. "She's cratering." That was the simple but brutal note Republican operative Eric Fehrnstrom posted on the social networking site Twitter, six days before the voting.
Running on a national defense platform and as a vote against Democratic plans for national health care reform, Brown rocketed past Coakley during the short special election campaign. On Jan. 11, a Boston Globe poll showed Brown 15 points behind Coakley.
To hear Democrats tell it the day after the voting, hope was supplanted by rage. "People are just angry," said former state Democratic Party chair Philip Johnston. "They see homes being foreclosed, millions of people losing their jobs, and Wall Street thieves making more money than ever. It's a very non-partisan consensus that people feel. And I think Brown caught that wave. I don't think Martha could've done much to avoid being swamped by it."
It was a humiliating loss for Coakley, who had been on a winning streak since coming in fourth place in a 1997 special election for state representative in Dorchester. Born in North Adams and for several years a Dorchester resident, she had served as Middlesex district attorney and attorney general and had handily beat Capuano and two others in a December primary. She was widely expected to beat Brown, potentially setting off a statewide electoral domino effect if she were to win and vacate the attorney general's office.
The anger Democrats repeatedly pointed to wasn't limited to middle class voters. Recriminations -- most of them stated privately -- started to roll in over the weekend on television and in national newspapers even before Obama joined Coakley on a stage at Northeastern University on Sunday, and they only grew in harshness.
Many pointed to the Coakley campaign brushing aside offers of help from Democratic operatives after she cruised to a win in the December primary. She was also lambasted among pundits for not campaigning enough, leaving Brown to fill the vacuum.
And then there were her widely noted gaffes: Calling Red Sox legend Curt Schilling a "Yankee" fan, reportedly mocking the shaking of voters' hands in the cold outside Fenway Park as Brown had done and stating that terrorists had left Afghanistan, among others.
Before the election results started coming in Tuesday night, one local Democratic operative said grimly through a text message: "Off to the mass suicide at the Sheraton. Martha Coakley just destroyed America. Sweet."
Asked about the unhappiness among some Democrats, Senate President Therese Murray, one of Coakley's top supporters and a Dorchester native, dismissed it as "Monday morning quarterbacking." Asked about Tobin's comments, Murray (D-Plymouth) said, "Well you know what? Maybe John should just work harder and keep those comments to himself. I don't know how much work he did on the campaign. I really haven't seen him around a lot."
Johnston, the former state Democratic Party chair, said Brown's win should be a "wake-up call" for Democrats. Ahead are the November elections, with Gov. Deval Patrick running for another term along with lawmakers in the state House of Representatives and the state Senate.
"The Democrats have to go back to our roots of economic populism and defending working families," Johnston told the Reporter. "I think weâ€™ve been adrift the last couple of years."
A few feet away, firefighters union president Robert McCarthy watched the election returns in a daze. "He caught lightning in a bottle," he said of Brown. "A month ago no one could have predicted this."