On the surface, Brown’s success, especially among independents, suggests that the GOP tent is expanding to make room even for moderate, pro-choice candidates like Brown. Have fiscal conservatives displaced social conservatives as the base? Or have the Palin-Huckabee Republicans made room at the inn out of expediency? Perhaps the party has embraced the philosophy of a retired state GOP chairman, who once said to me: “A good Republican is a Republican who wins.”

Then again, Coakley’s social positions were politically extreme, even by Massachusetts standards. Whatever the case, it would be a mistake to fashion Brown into a party savior, say insiders close to the race. Brown is sui generis — a candidate uniquely suited to his time and place.

As one GOP operative put it: “No one should expect him to be a conservative icon, because he’s not,” she said. “He’s a Massachusetts man of the people.”