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New political order tips against Obama to-do list, including letting gays serve openly in military

By CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Among the winners in the new political order: independent-minded voters and the upstart newcomers they favor, whether they drive pickup trucks or not.

Also on the rise: the few Republican moderates left in Congress, the tea party movement and, paradoxically, both legislative stalling and dealmaking. And it so happens that if you're inheriting a ton of money, you might just be a winner, too, tax-wise.

Losers? Just have a glance at President Barack Obama's swollen to-do list. Instead of checking off his planned health care overhaul, climate legislation, energy priorities, judicial appointments and more, he might have to cross some off.

A compendium of who's up, who's down, what's in and what's out after Republican Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy on Tuesday:

WINNER: GOP moderates and all things Maine.

No, the Capitol isn't moving to Bangor, but Maine edged closer to the center of the political universe, thanks to its two moderate Republican senators and their likely clout in the new alignment.

Olympia Snowe was the only Republican senator to vote for any version of health care legislation. Then Democrats figured out a way to pass the health care bill without making concessions to get her vote, or any other, from the GOP. They focused instead on corralling a liberal base, then lassoing conservative Democrats to get every member in line. That gave them the necessary 60 votes. Now it leaves them one short.

Snowe and fellow Maine moderate Susan Collins are sure to be courted hard, if not on health care, then on other legislation. It's a strong position to be in and one Snowe and Collins know how to use to advantage.

LOSER: Obama.

There's a chance Obama can salvage something resembling his idea of health care reform. But it's a big if. Beyond that, other big-ticket items are in jeopardy, and so are smaller ones. It's difficult to see where he gets the political capital to fulfill promises on letting gays serve openly in the armed forces, among other tricky social issues.

Democrats in tough districts are going to swallow hard before casting difficult votes for his policies. And his ability to help fellow Democrats who are in trouble is in question, not only because his last-minute appearance failed to save Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, but also because his White House didn't leap in sooner - even way back, during candidate recruitment - to predict this and prevent it.

To be sure, Democrats still control Congress. And if Republicans overplay their new hand, voters can take retribution against them in the fall and restore the primacy of Obama's agenda.

WINNER: Bipartisanship, the force-fed kind.

Until now, odes to bipartisanship have been nothing but cotton-candy words on both sides. Obama and the Democrats assembled their health care plan - and brought it to the brink of becoming law - without Republican support. Now the two parties have to eat their veggies and engage for anything meaningful to get done.

Still, the filibuster is the shadow looming over everything. With all 41 members on board, Senate Republicans can delay most things to death. That's why they have to be cut in on legislation in ways that were avoidable, just barely, before.

LOSER: Party labels.

Campaigning in one of the bluest of states, Brown rarely mentioned a rather important fact: He's a Republican. He emphasized his independence instead. A similar approach helped Republicans win governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia.

Democrats might be expected to follow suit by distancing themselves from the party brass. These are not seen as times to hitch a star too closely to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or even Obama, who still remains popular.

WINNER: Political insurgencies.

Brown's win emboldens other newcomers who would normally be written off. Now that Massachusetts, of all places, proved a battleground state, what next? Could the race to replace Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut in the Senate also become competitive? How about Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's seat in New York? Or what about conventional favorites on the other side, such as Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida Republican Senate primary?

"If there's anybody in this building that doesn't tell you they are more worried about elections today, you should absolutely slap them," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "Of course everyone is more worried about elections. Are you kidding?"

The tea-party activists, who powered a summer of discontent over the health care legislation, showed their influence Tuesday in swinging behind the Republican who presented himself as a pickup-driving populist. Grass-roots politics is also a powerful tool of the left, and one Obama used to great effect in his campaign.

But it's tougher now to attack the establishment when you're at the pinnacle of it.


LOSER: Americans without health insurance and some health care providers.

Americans who have health insurance are weighing arguments on both sides about whether the health care legislation will give them a better or worse deal in the end. There's little question, though, that the uninsured stand to gain from the proposed subsidies and arrangements. And they are bound to have to wait now or see some of their protections bargained away.

It's a mixed bag for providers. Although a health care law would make them live with tough new rules and perhaps pinched profits, they would also gain tens of millions of new customers and become part of a system they helped shape in negotiations.

Drug makers, for example, spent tens of millions of dollars over the past year advertising and lobbying in support of the Democrat effort and had agreed to contribute more than $80 billion to help finance the revamping.



On one hand, Brown's victory was a defeat for the activists who labored to get another liberal woman in the Senate. On the other hand, his win was driven in part by independent women. They went 2-1 for Brown, pollsters for both parties say, after strongly siding with Obama in 2008. That makes them swing voters to watch.


LOSER: A Senate jobs bill.

Already in trouble because of resistance from moderate Democrats, a deficit-financed, $75 billion to $150 billion jobs bill promised by Democratic leaders now faces enough Republican opposition to stop it. Not a single Republican supported the idea in the House.


WINNER: Education.

Once the dust settles from the health care debate, Democrats and Republicans alike may be looking for an apple-pie issue to embrace. Congress is overdue to rewrite the No Child Left Behind education law, and Obama shares a number of goals in this area with Republican lawmakers.


LOSER: Climate change and energy legislation.

Brown's win makes Obama's chances for getting a climate and energy bill through Congress more of a long shot. Senators working on a bill to limit heat-trapping pollution already were short of the 60 votes needed for passage. Now they have lost another vote. And fence-sitting Democrats and Republicans are likely to be less willing to support a bill that will increase energy prices heading into midterm elections.


WINNER: Big-money inheritances.

The federal estate tax expired Jan. 1, and Democrats were hoping to extend it, perhaps retroactively. But House and Senate Democrats couldn't agree on a tax rate or how much inheritance would be exempt from taxation.

Adding Senate Republicans to the negotiations will probably delay action and make it less likely any new tax will be retroactive. No one wants to be accused of raising taxes on people who are already dead.

The 45 percent tax rate in 2009 applied to estates larger than $7 million.


LOSER: Organized labor.

Just last week, unions worked out a deal with the White House to soften the impact of taxes on union health plans that would help pay for health care reform. Whether that deal can survive is now in question. And without 60 Democrats in the Senate, there's very little chance for labor to win its top priority - getting Congress to pass a law that would make it far easier for workers to form unions.


WINNER: The Guantanamo Bay status quo.

Congressional Democrats are going to be less likely to support the transfer of Guantanamo Bay terrorism prisoners overseas or to a new prison in Illinois now that the party is worried about appearing out of touch with everyday voters and Republicans are accusing them of not taking terrorists seriously enough.


LOSER: Foreign policy.

Obama must still focus on winding down the war in Iraq, where critical national elections soon will require his leadership, and on the increasing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. But the threat to his domestic agenda from Brown's victory is bound to distract him from foreign policy broadly.

He has made almost no progress on his vow to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table for work on a two-state solution. Also up in the air: completing a deal with Moscow on a nuclear arms reduction pact and persuading Russia and China to agree to tougher sanctions on Iran.


LOSER: Obama's judicial nominations.

Republicans will have the numbers to block nominees for federal court seats if they stay united. Although the filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee would be unlikely, Republican senators could use the possibility as a threat to force Obama to nominate a more center-of-the-road candidate. Obama would have a seat to fill if Justice John Paul Stevens, 89, decides to retire after the current term.

Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Beth Fouhy, Jennifer Loven, Libby Quaid, Dina Cappiello, Alan Fram, Laurie Kellman, Sam Hananel, Devlin Barrett, Steven R. Hurst, Jesse J. Holland and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.


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