First and foremost, this is a referendum on Coakley's campaign, not on President Obama (thought I'll get to him later.) She blew it, taking a Caribbean vacation after the primary, assuming she'd merely coast into the Senate. She didn't see the Brown surge, didn't use any of the questions about his record against him, didn't try to define him until it was too late. Proof that the vote wasn't about Obama: She lost many voters who said they still support Obama. (Joan Walsh, “Learning the wrong lessons from Massachussetts,” Salon, 19 January 2010)
I don't buy that it was the campaign. I think when Obama got in, and both houses were democrat-controlled, many Americans felt strangely hemmed-in by net. The tea-baggers were taken as feisty fish, battering, this way and that (and thus were attended to way beyond what support for their political stance, would by itself allowed) -- and Brown's victory, the glorious emergence. Knowing that escape is possible, it is actually possible that Obama's policies won't be opposed with quite the same vigor. Maybe they (Scott Brown cheerers) just needed to feel they'd demonstrated why they need to be attended to --their own self-importance, capacity for empowered self-movement -- before they nestled in more comfortably with Obama's plans.
No better campaign would have helped her, because the electorate -- and the press-- was in the mood to imagine her as dilly-dallyingly presumptive, and her opponent as all vigor. If she hadn't gone on vacation, something -- anything -- else would have been used to maintain this fantasy. The fact of the matter, would, in my judgment, hardly have mattered: it was going to be Rocky 2, regardless.