Is this HUGE?
How one interprets the race will determine what effect it has on Congress, the president and 2010. The media, the cablers, I predict, will explode in an orgy of over-interpretation; the biggest upset, turning a complex election into a simple statement or message.
EPOCHAL? No. Important? Of course. As has been pointed out, Democrats maintain a large party majority. But is increasingly clear that they do not have a political majority -- and there is a difference. There aren't enough Democratic Senators to pass the agenda that the majority of Democrats have coalesced around. But this has been obvious for a while.
Democrats will say: See? Voters want results and blame Democrats for not producing results. So -- do more. Fight harder. Get results. (This will require more spending and higher taxes, but we won't say so.)
Republicans will say: See? Voters fed up with Democratic policies. So -- stop Democratic policies. (This will require painful spending cuts and is unrealistic during a recession, but we won't say so.)
After the furor wears off, it's going to be Congress who prolongs the story. If they do try to ram though health care reform, this story has legs -- "Against the will of the people..." and "...after a decisive message from even the bluest of states," etc.
That's tough for Democrats to swallow, because they've got 59 votes -- a majority. But Republicans, on the basis of this campaign, will have won the messaging wars. They've got the heckler's veto, as James Fallows puts it, and aren't afraid to use it.
Independents are angry -- irate, even -- at steps that the White House insists were necessary to, well, save the world: the bailouts, the way Wall Street seems to not to be sharing the pain, massive government spending. They're also mad about government competence and nervous about health care, and channeling it into specific complaints about the debt and deficit. They also believe that the administration has managed the recovery from the perspective of Wall Street, not Main Street.
By the way: the state legislature is very unpopular in Massachusetts and run by Democrats. The governor is unpopular and is a Democrat. Like many other states, Massachusetts is struggling with enormous budgetary problems; taxes are being raised and spending is being cut.
It's not a good time to be a Democrat.
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder is CBS News' chief political consultant. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter.