It’s not easy being Brown in a blue state.
On the dais at Boston Marriott Copley Place, Ann Romney beamed as she rattled off the names of all the politicians who had helped her husband on Super Tuesday. She didn’t forget the home crowd. “And finally, thank you Massachusetts,” the commonwealth’s former first lady exclaimed, singling out “our senator, Scott Brown” for praise.
Brown, of course, wasn’t there. Even in Boston, a Mitt Romney for president rally is likely to draw a partisan Republican crowd. As a senator who probably needs to win two-thirds of independent voters this fall in a state the incumbent Democratic president is likely to carry, Brown didn’t need to be seen on stage while Romney was throwing out red meat about the flaws and failures of Barack Obama.
That’s not to say that Brown, who endorsed Romney, wasn’t happy to see the former governor do well. Romney, who won the semi-open Massachusetts primary with 72 percent of the vote, is the only Republican nominee who can keep the presidential contest in the Bay State close enough for Brown to realistically win enough ticket-splitters to hold on to his Senate seat. It’s a difficult balancing act that Brown has to maintain in a tough political environment, but so far he hasn’t stumbled.
Much has changed since Brown—hyperbolically dubbed “the Scott heard ’round the world”—captured Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat in a January 2010 special election. He was the first Republican to win statewide since Romney eight years earlier, the first GOP member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation since January 1997, and the state’s first Republican senator since Edward Brooke’s second term expired in 1979 after he lost re-election to Paul Tsongas.
Two years ago, Brown caught both state and national Democrats almost completely by surprise. By the time they realized Kennedy’s heir apparent Martha Coakley was in trouble, it was too late. A full court press by a who’s who of Democrats ranging from Bill Clinton to John Kerry couldn’t put Humpty back together again.
Brown was also a national conservative cause, as people donated money far and wide to see a Republican sitting in Kennedy’s seat. Brown campaigned openly as the 41st vote against Obamacare. His election would not only restore the Republicans’ power to filibuster the dreaded health care bill, but also prove that the legislation was unpopular even in Kennedy country. He became a Tea Party cause célèbre, and the burgeoning grassroots movement saw his upset victory as a sign of their national potential in November 2010.
Now Brown is the incumbent, running in plain sight of Democratic operatives nationally and in Massachusetts. Representing one of the country’s bluest states, he sits high atop their target lists. After a series of feints to the center, Brown is no longer a national Tea Party favorite. One local Tea Party group, in fact, hoped to find a Republican primary challenger. Brown has been equally offhand with the movement, downplaying its role in his election and declining to appear at some Tea Party rallies.
This time around, likely Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren is a national progressive darling. She is more a symbol of Occupy Wall Street than Brown ever was the Tea Party. She is attracting the out-of-state political contributions and hauling in more money than Brown in some quarters of fundraising. And Warren radiates the kind of energy that once animated the Brown campaign.
Despite all this, Scott Brown still has a fighting chance. After early polls showed Warren pulling ahead, four of the five next major surveys found Brown leading by as many as nine points. In March, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling had Warren back out in front by five points. But even that poll, which sampled registered rather than likely voters, showed Brown with a double-digit lead among independents, pulling 17 percent of Democrats, and pitching a Curt Schilling-like shutout among Republicans.
BROWN HAD TRIED to demonstrate his independence from the national GOP in order to cultivate unaffiliated voters and soft Democrats. During the lame-duck congressional session, he broke with conservatives by supporting the New Start Treaty and an end to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy concerning gays in the military. Brown was a member of the Army National Guard, had advocated for veterans in the Massachusetts legislature, and had mostly sided with hawks during his special election campaign, so both votes were considered a surprise—and a betrayal by his more conservative supporters.
Yet Brown also voted to retain the Bush tax cuts and opposed the DREAM Act, which he labeled amnesty for illegal immigrants. He sided with social liberals on federal funding for Planned Parenthood, saying a GOP plan to defund the organization—which is the nation’s top abortion provider but also performs women’s health services—“goes too far.” Brown then joined social conservatives in opposing the contraceptive mandate the Obama Department of Health and Human Services imposed on religious institutions.
This triangulation has won Brown enemies on both sides. For his opposition to the HHS mandate, the Boston Phoenix blasted him as “Scott Brown, crazy person.” The liberal alt-weekly editorialized that Brown had joined “the Republican cult against birth control” and the “vast and growing right-wing war on women.” Meanwhile, conservative activists complained that Brown was too liberal.
“There’s enough of an underground movement in the Tea Party movement as seeing him as not being conservative enough,” Christen Varley, then president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, told the Boston Globe (which also occasionally reads like a liberal alt-weekly), in December 2010. “There probably will be multiple people who attempt to run against him.” And while no such primary challenge has materialized, Brown’s vote for the Dodd-Frank financial reforms—arguably his biggest transgression against conservative principles—will almost certainly keep him from receiving major national Tea Party support this fall.
But the fallout from his juggling hasn’t been entirely negative. Several polls have shown Brown to have high approval ratings among independents, now a plurality of Massachusetts’ registered voters. There is a reason he is hovering at around 90 percent support from Republicans while also getting a larger crossover vote than Warren: he has demonstrated finesse at dealing with controversial issues.
Consider contraceptives, where he has simultaneously opposed the HHS mandate and criticized Rush Limbaugh for his comments about Sandra Fluke. “Brown’s stance on birth control might still hurt him among women, who are important swing voters in Massachusetts,” writes political journalist David Bernstein (in the Phoenix of all places). “But he is probably helping himself among conservative Catholic Democrats, who were key to his victory two years ago.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?