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Chilling message from unhappy voters

By Ed Rollins, CNN senior political contributor
  • President Obama won Massachusetts by a 26-point margin in 2008
  • Loss of Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy sends clear message to officials, says Ed Rollins
  • Voters want representatives who are beholden to them, not to their parties, Rollins says

Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

New York (CNN) -- The voters in Massachusetts sent a message loud and clear. Maybe even a "shot heard around the world." At least the political world. Tuesday night's victory for Scott Brown for the vacant seat held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy for 46 years was a massive win for disenchanted voters everywhere.

His message that this wasn't the "Kennedy seat; it's the people's seat" reverberated coast to coast. This was the biggest upset of the political establishment since George Nethercutt defeated House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994. The message was similar. The winning slogan for Nethercutt was this "district doesn't need a speaker; it needs a listener."

Brown arguing that his becoming the 41st vote would make every senator the 41st vote had real meaning. It means that every senator needs to represent their voters and not be beholden to either party. And every vote counts.

The voters were saying in the bluest of the blue states, to both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, "We aren't happy. Washington, D.C., is not working and it's your fault. It's not Bush's fault, it's not Newt Gingrich's fault. It's your job and if you can't do it, we'll find somebody who can."

It is a chilling message to professional politicians. "Wanted! New senators; no experience necessary; just an ability to listen to voters."

To Democrats this defeat may be viewed as the second Boston massacre. For Republicans it maybe the second Boston Tea party. The warning shot is that business as usual is unacceptable, and if you continue down that path, do so at your own risk. And remember, we the voters hire you and we can fire you, too.

Wednesday marks the one year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration. I am sure he never thought that this anniversary would follow Tuesday's inaugural of the new Republican governor of New Jersey or the loss of the Senate seat of his good friend and mentor, Kennedy .

My only advice on your anniversary is: Mr. President, don't run away from or misinterpret Tuesday's results. Don't let the Chicago sycophants surrounding you in the White House tell you this defeat had nothing to do with you or your health care legislation or your style of governing. It did big time, and every poll said it did.

You have three more years before the next inaugural. It may be yours or it maybe someone else's. But don't let your team convince you that this loss was only about Martha Coakley being a lousy candidate. (She was.) But she was good enough to win the state attorney general's job three years ago with 73 percent of the vote. She was good enough to trounce three other candidates, including a sitting congressman to win the primary a few weeks ago.

No, Brown's victory was about a lot more, and Mr. President, even though you weren't on the ballot, you were a big part of it. Remember this was a a state you won by a 26-percentage point margin, a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1. But the critical voting data is that 51 percent of the voters are unaffiliated.

This is a state that hasn't elected a Republican senator since the Nixon landslide election of 1972. (Massachusetts was the only state Nixon lost.) Sen. Ed Brooke, a liberal, African-American, was re-elected in that year, only to lose six years later. Brooke was the first member of his race since Reconstruction to be elected to the Senate and the only Republican. Since 1920, Massachusetts has only voted Republican for president in the Eisenhower and Reagan landslide victories.

Republicans are obviously joyful but need to learn the lessons of the gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey as well as this victory. Listen to the voters. Talk to them. Try to find solutions for their problems.

Democrats don't need me to give them advice. But killing each other in back-stabbing contests won't help. The blame game started before the first vote was counted. But maybe they will be humbled by losing the seat they thought they owned.

I am sure a Kennedy or a follower will try to win it back in 2012. But in the meantime, the senators and House members running in 2010 better start listening to their bosses -- and I don't mean House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And Obama's likable personality isn't going to help if the country doesn't like his policies.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.