Shock defeat forces Obama to rethink healthcare reforms President looks for 'core elements' that appeal to both parties after admitting frustration led to loss of solid Senate seat Ewen MacAskill in Boston guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 20 January 2010 22.28 GMT Article history Barack Obama has been forced to rethink his entire strategy after a Republican won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. Photograph: Chris Usher/EPA A humbled Barack Obama admitted personal mistakes in allowing a sense of "remoteness and detachment" to develop around his administration after a shock Republican victory in a former ultra-safe Democratic stronghold left his political strategy, including his cherished healthcare reforms, in jeopardy. On the first anniversary of the US president's inauguration, little known Republican candidate Scott Brown delivered a huge psychological blow to the Democrats by snatching the Massachusetts senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy. It was the first time that the traditionally liberal east coast state had elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972 and it robbed Democrats of the 60-40 majority they needed to override legislative opposition in the upper house. In an ABC television interview last night, Obama attributed the defeat, in part, to economic woes inherited from the Bush administration: "The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry and they are frustrated. Not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years." But he went on to accept a degree of blame for Democrats' plunging poll ratings: "We've had to make some decisions that weren't popular. We've made some mistakes. I, personally, have made some mistakes." One failing, Obama said, was a sense of losing touch with the public: "We were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost that sense of, you know, speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are." Accepting that the public detected a sense of "remoteness and detachment" from the government, Obama pledged to slow down and "spread out what we do so it's not so cram-packed". "It doesn't mean I back off the agenda of healthcare or energy or financial regulatory reform or dealing with our deficits but it doesn't have to be all on top of each other, piled on," said the US president. Brown's win in delivered a huge psychological blow to the Democrats. Every Democrat seat in November's mid-term congressional election is now potentially vulnerable and the Republicans can now play havoc not only with the health bill but with the rest of Obama's domestic legislative programme. Republicans immediately called for Obama's contentious healthcare reforms to be scrapped and for Obama to start from scratch to draft a more acceptable version. Michael Steele, the Republican national chairman, said: "People across the country are saying 'slow it down.'" In a distinct softening of tone, Obama appeared to accept that his healthcare plans would need alteration: "I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements in the package that people agree on." He cited insurance reform, cost containment and help for small businesses in providing cover as key elements with support across the board, and pledged that the new senator would be "part of the process" in finding agreement. "Here's one thing I know and I just want to make sure that this is off the table: The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated," said Obama. "The people of Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of that process." Democrats met at Congress yesterday to discuss how to salvage the bill, which would extend insurance coverage to 95% of Americans. Obama had hoped to have it passed into law before his state of the union speech next Wednesday. The Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, who at one point had a lead of 40 percentage points, lost by 52% to 47% to Brown, who was barely known even in Massachusetts until a fortnight ago. Brown was helped by Republicans from across the country who worked on his campaign, millions of dollars in support from conservative groups and volunteers from the grassroots anti-tax Tea party. The loss of a seat held by the Democrats since 1952 started a blame game, with White House aides accusing Coakley of a complacent campaign. Grassroots local Democrats blamed the leadership in Washington for slowness to react to the threat posed by Brown, and for advocating a negative campaign that went down badly with independents. At a press conference in Boston yesterday, Brown tried to reconcile opposition to healthcare nationally with his support for Massachusetts' mandatory healthcare programme. "It's important for everyone to get some form of healthcare, so to offer a basic plan for everybody I think is important," he said, adding that the bill needed to go "back to the drawing board". Obama will have to contend with panicking Democratic members of Congress as he decides whether to pursue a liberal agenda or shift towards the centre. Healthcare, high spending and unemployment were the main issues for supporters of Brown, who saw an opportunity to make a stand against Obama. One campaign worker, Dudley Winn, 49, a hospital administrator, said he had travelled with 100 other volunteers from Texas and, between them, they had made 100,000 phone calls in four days. "The result is phenomenal. Obama will have no choice. This president will have to move to the centre as all presidents before him have done," Winn said. Michael Nicolazzo, 26, from Massachusetts, was a Democrat until two years ago but felt Obama was too leftwing. "For the bluest of all states to elect a Republican, it really sends a message that people do not want extravagant spending." Democrats in Boston were worried about the party's prospects. "We are all in shock," said Addrienne Walker, 40, an IT specialist. She hoped Obama would not back off on health reform but admitted the elections would be tough. "Obama is going to have a fight on his hands."