Whoever scheduled the special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Edward Kennedy on January 19 did Barack Obama no favors.
The president did not need the tension of a too-close-for comfort electoral test on the day before the one-year anniversary of his inauguration.
Democrat Martha Coakley loss to Republican Scott Brown in Tuesday's voting was a painful blow to the president.
One year into his presidency, he has been hit with the most painful of all measures of the success or failure of his presidency -- the loss of the filibuster-proof majority he needed to pass health-care reform and the rest of his agenda.
Obama and his aides need to take seriously the wake-up call they got from Massachusetts.
The results serves as a reminder that the White House and the Democratic Congress must do more to connect with Americans who are worried about the economy and uncertain about whether this administration has got its act together.
Coakley should have won without a problem in a state that sends an entirely Democratic delegation to the Congress and that has not backed a Republican for president in a quarter century.
Instead, she got beat -- admittedly in a odd election.
But 2010 could have a lot of odd elections.
Democrats got their wake-up call too late and responded too slowly in Massachusetts.
They cannot afford to continue stumbling.
The party must open an internal (and to some extent external) discussion about their circumstance going into a critical election year.
In particular, they must recognize that they have mismanaged the health-care debate – confusing Americans, offering less than anyone bargained for and spending too much time trying to satisfy the demands of big insurance firms and the pharmaceutical industry. They also must recognize that they have spent too little time focused on jobs and holding Wall Street and the big banks to account.
Obama's final push for Coakley was too little, too late.
But the message was right.
He needs to be more populist, not less. He needs to go after the bankers -- not go easier on them, as some conservative Democrats will counsel.
Of course, the president and congressional Democrats need to get more actively engaged in muscling up and making real the promise of health-care reform – which must be passed in order to record a major accomplishment. But their primary focus has to be on the too-long neglected economic mess that threatens to undermine the party's prospects this fall.