Column: Don’t Bet Your Shirt That Brown Will Win
Republicans are feeling so heady about running against Obamacare that they’re thrilled that Scott Brown is all but certain to run for a U.S. Senate seat in New Hampshire. Yes, you heard right, the former one-term senator from Massachusetts who lost to newcomer Elizabeth Warren in 2012 announced at a Republican gathering Friday that he has formed an exploratory committee to run against the New Hampshire Democratic incumbent, Jeanne Shaheen.
It’s a testament to the weakness of the Republican bench in New Hampshire that the party had to go to Massachusetts to find a candidate, one famous for removing his shirt at the slightest provocation. It makes you wonder if his first act in office will be to annex Crimea.
His other claim to fame is beating a Democrat, Martha Coakley, a notoriously bad campaigner, in a special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat in deep-blue Massachusetts in 2010. While she complained about shaking hands in the cold outside Fenway Park, Brown, a onetime Cosmopolitan centerfold, looked like a movie star auditioning to be senator as he drove around in a pickup with rolled-up sleeves and perfect hair. Coakley became a late-night laugh line after she referred to ex-Boston Red Sox star pitcher and Brown supporter Curt Schilling as a New York Yankees fan. Brown won handily.
Once in Washington, he played being senator the way Bobby Riggs told Billie Jean King to play doubles: Stand in the alley and don’t hit anything that doesn’t hit you first. He lost his re-election bid to Warren, a relatively unknown first-time candidate, and went off to practice law and to hold forth on Fox News. After flirting with the idea of challenging Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey for John Kerry’s Senate seat, Brown decided to stuff his belongings in a carpetbag and take up permanent residence in the Granite State, where he’d previously only vacationed.
He’s ready to adopt the Republican playbook. Having dropped debt, the deficit and closing down the government as weapons, the party has settled on a single issue: Obamacare. They’re giddy over the special House election last week in Florida. If the health-care law could help the really bad Republican candidate David Jolly beat a really good Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, the strategy could work anywhere.
Karl Rove is among the national Republicans urging Brown to run on the principle that you find a presentable candidate, add water, stir in health care and, voila, you have a winner even in a fairly blue state (New Hampshire’s Gov. Maggie Hassan is a Democrat, too).
Brown sees himself as riding the surf: “A big political wave is about to break in America, and the Obamacare Democrats are on the wrong side of that wave,” he said Friday. He released a video featuring consumers complaining about the health-care law. He got loud applause when he said, “If we don’t like Obamacare, we can get rid of it.” To thank Brown for jumping in, Rove is putting $600,000 into ads against Shaheen.
Shaheen is no Coakley, though. She’s well organized, a strong fundraiser and has built a solid team. As a former governor, she has deep roots in New Hampshire, and her frequent return visits from Washington are noticed in a state that’s small enough to know if you’re there. She bests other, Republican candidates by more than 10 percent — former state Sen. Jim Rubens, former Sen. Bob Smith and conservative activist Karen Testerman. It’s too soon to know how Brown will do against Shaheen. A poll in December by Public Policy Polling showed him trailing her by four points.
This pickup opportunity opens one more pathway for Republicans to win the six seats they need to gain the Senate majority. They have seven states tilting heavily their way: Four Democratic incumbents are running in hostile territory won by Mitt Romney in 2012 (Louisiana, North Carolina, Alaska and Arkansas), and three states look like easy pickups (Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota). At the least, New Hampshire will require more national party attention and money, but the entry of Brown, a reasonable Republican candidate, could push out the more extreme ones and make an upset in the state more likely.
Brown mostly looks good next to the competition. He could come off like he’s using New Hampshire, win or lose, to run for president. He’s a frequent visitor to Iowa. Running for the Senate is an excellent way to get back in the game (he’s resigned from Fox and has begun a listening tour in the state).
Emigrating from Massachusetts to New Hampshire could prove to be lasting trouble. There are carpetbaggers (Hillary Clinton, Robert Kennedy) and then there is Brown, who is trying to be elected senator from two states, a feat no one has achieved in living memory. According to the U.S. Senate Historical Office, as reported by Talking Points Memo, only two senators have represented multiple states in the history of the chamber: In the 19th century, James Shields, a Democrat, served as senator from Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri, and Waitman Thomas Willey represented both Virginia and West Virginia.
Democrats produced a video that portrays Brown as an opportunist whose devotion to the Granite State is questionable. It shows him talking about a love for Massachusetts so great that “he would like to die” there. Democrats are hoping that, politically, his death occurs in New Hampshire.
Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.