Independents told Democrats, Obama to take a hike

John Triolo, a 38-year-old retail sales manager, is like more than half the voters in “true-blue Democratic” Massachusetts: an independent.

Triolo supported Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency because he wanted change. But on Tuesday, in a race seen as a referendum on Obama’s legislative agenda, Triolo cast his vote for upstart Republican Scott Brown over the once heavily favored Democrat, Martha Coakley.

“I wanted change,” Triolo said of Obama, “I thought he’d bring it to us, but I just don’t like the direction that he’s heading.”

Here in what has stood up as a reliably Democratic state, conventional wisdom about voter behavior was thrown out in the race to fill the seat that had been held for more than half a century by Edward M. Kennedy or his brother, John F. Kennedy.

Coakley, 56, the state’s attorney general, soundly defeated three other Democrats in a primary last month and was seen as a shoo-in. But Brown, 50, a state senator, used his everyman image and message of stopping Obama’s agenda to tap into voter exasperation and gain support among independents.

Griffin Smith, a 24-year-old teacher, said his vote for Brown was not a vote against Obama, even though he supported him a year ago November.

“The Democrats have the White House. The Democrats have the Senate, as well,” he said. “I would like to have more of a checks-and-balance system.”

Robert Hickman, 55, who works for the Massachusetts Racing Commission, said he decided only Monday to vote for Coakley. He said his support was not based on any one particular issue, but rather on his desire to “stay on the same page with the president.”

“I think it makes sense to vote for Martha if you voted for President Obama,” said Hickman, of New Bedford.

Neicei Degen, an 82-year-old writer and former senior center director, said she’s a lifelong Democrat who hasn’t been out of the house since Thanksgiving. But she trudged through a sloppy mix of snow in Peabody and freezing rain to support Coakley in the hopes of salvaging Obama’s health care overhaul.

Degen, who likens voting to “a religious obligation” and recalls attending a rally for Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Boston Common when she was just 5 years old, said she was unimpressed by Brown.

“I’m surprised that Scott Brown has made such inroads, that people would mess up their own lives by voting for him,” said Degen, who lives in Peabody.

Rich Theg, 46, of Dartmouth, a sales manager for a chemical company, is a registered Republican but likes some of Obama’s ideas, including health care for all. But he said Obama’s plans are going too far and will be too expensive.

“I never would have thought that this would ever be close in Massachusetts, but I do believe it’s following a national trend of people being less than satisfied about the size of some of the things being put together,” he said.


Associated Press writers Michelle R. Smith in New Bedford, Stephanie Reitz in Springfield and Steve LeBlanc in Peabody contributed to this report.