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Editorial: Great Scott

Well, just like that, this year’s Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire has a new frontrunner, Scott Brown, and he’s from … Massachusetts.

Or at least he was until recently, when he sold his house there and moved to Rye, N.H., a wealthy town on the seacoast where he has owned a second home for two decades.

“He brings in a star power that we haven’t had to date in this race; the Democrats are clearly concerned about him,” swooned Jim Merrill, a Republican strategist who worked for Mitt Romney (which may or may not say something about his judgment in these matters).

Brown, of course, was the improbable winner of a U.S. Senate seat in his home state in 2010 — a seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy. He ran for re-election in 2012, and was soundly defeated by Democrat Elizabeth Warren in the nation’s most expensive congressional race.

That Brown’s potential candidacy in New Hampshire, announced Friday, has so thoroughly excited the state’s Republican hierarchy would have been thought an irony years ago, when Massachusetts was regarded as a pit of godless socialism and, worse yet, god-awful levels of taxation. That has long since changed, of course, as southern New Hampshire has in many ways evolved — or devolved, depending on your viewpoint — into a northern suburb of the Bay State, home to many commuters who work in Boston and an extension of the Boston media market.

One thing that New Hampshire has always welcomed from its neighbors to the south, though, is the money they spend here on liquor and cigarettes and tourism. So one can see why Brown is being welcomed with open arms. His fundraising powers are formidable: He amassed $28 million in his re-election bid, which would have been astounding had not Warren raised $42 million. And on Thursday, he donated $29,000 to the New Hampshire Republican Party and county committees around the state.

So Brown can be depended on to attract a lot of out-of-state money should he formally enter the race, win the primary and oppose U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in November. Shaheen, a former governor, remains popular, but national Republicans think she can be undone by her strong support for Obamacare. If so, a Brown candidacy could help the party gain control of the Senate this fall.

Their hopes may be well founded. The upside is that Brown has a reputation for political moderation in a state with a similar orientation, and he is something of a rock-star, with a certain genius for the photogenic moment. This winter, he jumped shirtless into the icy water at Hampton Beach to benefit the Special Olympics (and not incidentally got his picture in the paper for doing so.)

But as always in New Hampshire, nothing can be taken for granite. Politics here may no longer be strictly retail, but they are not entirely media-driven, either. Brown is still going to have to spend a significant amount of time in patient, personal interaction with voters to convince them that his longtime ties to the state render “carpetbagger” an inappropriate description of his residential and political status. Maybe he can remind them that no less an iconic figure than Daniel Webster represented both New Hampshire and Massachusetts in Congress.

Of course, before the general election, he still has to win the primary against a field that includes former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, conservative activist Karen Testerman and former state senator Jim Rubens. In that narrower context, Brown can expect to be scrutinized over his support for a federal assault weapons ban and for abortion rights.

On the whole, though, we welcome Brown’s decision to test the icy waters of New Hampshire politics — though we recommend that he keep his shirt on.