BOSTON (AP) -- Democrat Elizabeth Warren, architect of the consumer watchdog agency set up by the Obama administration after the meltdown on Wall Street, was elected to the Senate on Tuesday, winning a hard-fought victory against Republican Sen. Scott Brown in one of the most expensive Senate contests of the year.
The race took on epic proportions as the candidates spent a total of more than $68 million and hurled charges and countercharges in an increasingly bitter campaign that was watched closely by both national parties while they dueled for control of the upper chamber.
Warren becomes the first woman elected to the Senate from Massachusetts.
With about 85 percent of the vote in, she had almost 53 percent to 47 percent for Brown.
Warren, speaking at a Boston hotel, saluted her supporters for helping her unseat a popular incumbent.
"You did what everyone thought was impossible. You taught a scrappy first-time candidate how to get in the ring and win," she said. "You took on the powerful Wall Street banks and special interests and you let them know you want a senator who'll be out there fighting for the middle class all of the time."
In conceding defeat, Brown told supporters: "We stood strong in the fight, and we stand strong now even in disappointment."
"Whatever the future holds, I am a fortunate man," he added.
Warren, a Harvard Law professor, helped create the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the mortgage crisis and the financial abuses exposed on Wall Street. Brown went to Washington after stunning the Democrats by winning a 2010 special election for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat.
The two candidates signed an unusual agreement to discourage super PACs and other independent groups from running TV, radio and Internet ads, but they still raised staggering amounts.
The GOP had hoped to solidify its gains in heavily Democratic Massachusetts by retaining the seat, while Democrats were mortified by the thought of a Republican serving in the seat held for 47 years by the foremost liberal on Capitol Hill.
Warren cast herself as a fighter for the middle class and portrayed Brown as beholden to "big oil" and "millionaires and billionaires."
She stumbled early over questions of her claims of Indian heritage and her decision to identify herself as a minority in law school directories from 1986 to 1995.
She said she was told by her family that her mother had Cherokee and Delaware Indian background, but she was unable to provide documentation. Brown accused her of misrepresenting her background and using it to help land a job at Harvard, something Warren and those who hired her denied.
Warren found herself the butt of jokes from bloggers and columnists. The issue later backfired on Brown when some of his staffers were caught on video at one his campaign rallies mocking Warren by doing a "tomahawk chop" and shouting war whoops. Brown condemned the behavior.
Brown was elected with tea party backing two years ago but steered a more centrist course in the Senate. During his campaign against Warren, he downplayed his GOP roots and touted instances in which he broke with his party, including supporting the creation of the financial watchdog agency and backing the rights of gays to serve openly in the military.
Union leaders, who had staked their political reputations on a Warren win, said the victory vindicates their efforts.
"We had a good day," said Edward Kelly, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. "We worked very hard to put the next senator from Massachusetts in D.C, to make sure our country is moving in the right direction."
Warren supporter Edy Rees, 70, of Boston's Roslindale neighborhood, was jubilant.
"She's for the 100 percent of us, whereas poor Scott Brown, maybe he's for himself, maybe he's for the 1 percent, but either way, he's not doing his job," said a grinning Rees, who wore a "Grandparent for Elizabeth" button.
Bob Long, a 73-year-old retired accountant from Saugus, said he backed Brown and didn't buy Warren's campaign pitch that she was the better candidate for the middle class.
"He's a local guy from Wakefield. I think he's well-schooled in the needs of the average person. We all know what his background is. We all know that he didn't come with a silver spoon in his mouth," Long said. "That's why I find it hard to think that he would be worrying about any millionaires."
Fellow Saugus resident Ethel Swirka, 80, cast her ballot for Warren, in part because she liked the idea of voting for a woman: "I think women should have more say in the way the government is run. It's not a man's world anymore."