By Karl Vick
Thursday, January 21, 2010; 8:16 AM
BOSTON -- On the morning after his upset victory in Massachusetts's Senate race, Scott Brown complained of getting no sleep at all, yet sounded far less grumpy than the voters whose rage everyone seemed to be saying he rode to victory.
"If you would have told me growing up that, you know, a guy whose mom was on welfare and parents had some marital troubles, and I had some issues, you know, growing up, that I would be here, standing before you now and going to Washington, D.C., are you kidding me?" Brown said at a news conference. "It's not only overwhelming, but it's so -- I can't tell you how proud I am to be here."
The Republican elected as the crucial 41st Senate vote that would stop the Democrats' health-care bill went on to strike a conciliatory tone. "We're past campaign mode," he said, adding that it is important to find a way for "everyone to get some form of health care."
While asking the Massachusetts secretary of state to speed the formalities for assuming office, Brown said he would travel to Washington on Thursday to pay courtesy calls on Capitol Hill. He also promised to reach across the aisle in the tradition of the late Edward M. Kennedy, the Democrat who held the seat for 47 years, after his brother John had it for eight.
Moderator David Gergen's reference to it as "Teddy Kennedy's seat" in the campaign's only debate prompted a comeback from Brown that became a rallying cry: "It's the people's seat."
"Backstage, he didn't even know who I was," Brown told a local television reporter Tuesday night.
But in a state that last elected a Republican to the Senate in 1972, Tuesday night's result took some by surprise.
"I never thought I'd see the day it'd happen in Massachusetts," said Kristin Kelly, 22, at an Irish bar after midnight.
Kelly grew up in a large Irish Catholic family in Brockton, majored in health and human services at Suffolk University, minored in political science, and talks politics with the regulars at the Beacon Hill pub where she waits tables. The screensaver on her phone is a photograph of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, silhouetted in the French doors of the White House.
Of Edward Kennedy, she said: "There was alcoholism. Scandal. I truly believe he was a good politician and had a lot of good ideas even though he wasn't perfect." She gestured toward her best friend, Alice Fallon, on the next stool. "I was explaining Chappaquiddick to her earlier."
"I'm not from Massachusetts," Fallon said.
"Everyone thinks Massachusetts is so liberal," she added. "And coming from outside, I see it as a very split state, with no middle ground."
There is some sense here that the Kennedy tradition was laid to rest with Edward. The state said its goodbyes in August and, with Tuesday's vote, moved on. Almost a half-century after the time when the family name dominated national politics, in Boston it exists chiefly institutionally: the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation, the green exit sign on Interstate 93 for the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. (On the Boston subway's Red Line, the stop is UMASS/JFK.)
"I know I miss the Kennedys," said Barry Hamilton, 55, an unemployed truck driver born and bred in Boston. "Long time. I remember when Ted first got in.
"But we still have the son there, who was giving out the oil," Hamilton said. That would be Robert's son Joe, the former congressman who appears on television spots for Citgo, delivering free fuel oil to the elderly and poor with a dazzling smile.
"Wasn't he going to run for something?" Hamilton asked.
Not his uncle's seat. Joseph P. Kennedy II passed on the race, and it was a Republican who reached for the Kennedy mantle. The week after Christmas, Brown's campaign aired a television ad that began with an old video of President Kennedy that, flickering, turns into Brown. His media adviser called it the turning point in a campaign that had relied mostly on Brown's retail politicking, shoe leather and handshakes.
In fact, Brown's common touch, good looks and quick wit in the end gave the Republican more in common with Edward Kennedy, as a campaigner, than the Democrat. State Attorney General Martha Coakley spent little time with ordinary voters until Brown made the contest a race. One of her TV ads misspelled Massachusetts. And less than a week before Election Day, she called Curt Schilling -- the Red Sox ace famous for beating the New York Yankees in Game Six of the 2004 American League Championship Series while bleeding from an ankle -- a Yankee fan.
An active Republican, Schilling recorded a robo call telling registered independents that her gaffe "shows that Martha Coakley has no idea what goes on in everyday life here in the commonwealth."
Yet Kennedy did, even as paterfamilias of a political dynasty that was often referred to as royalty. "He understood innately how to deal with people," said Cheryl Hassey, a telephone operator, pausing on a blustery sidewalk as she took her lunch back to work. "He was from Massachusetts. And you have to respect the man for working as hard as he did."
Hassey, who voted for Brown, was delighted by Tuesday's outcome. "To tell you the truth, I'm a Republican, living here my whole life," she said. "I'm happy with it, but it's not like after the Super Bowl, when we were going nuts."