Does Scott Brown have a Tea Party problem? For the second straight quarter, the Republican senator from Massachusetts has been outraised by his likely Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. Brown isn't exactly in the poorhouse. He raised a respectable $3.2 million during the fourth quarter of 2011 and his $12.8 million cash on hand is more than double Warren's.
But Warren's impressive $5.7 million haul over the last three months of 2011 is 50 percent higher than Brown's fundraising over the same period. The cash came in handy for a $1.6 million television ad buy in December. While Warren touts her support from small donors -- she has reported that the average contribution to her campaign is just $64 -- in the past she has raised up to 70 percent of her campaign moolah from out-of-state donors.
Some of these donors could be from Wall Street firms that benefit from federal bailouts. Warren told the Boston Herald last week that she was accepting donations from Wall Streeters who "want reform." The best way to prove you want reform, naturally, is to vote with your dollars for Elizabeth Warren.
Warren has also become a genuine phenomenon among grassroots liberals across the country. She is both a darling of and an intellectual influence behind the Occupy Wall Street movement (despite earnings that make her a member of the 1 percent). Many fervently hoped Warren would be appointed head of the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She's collecting lots of money from liberal voters who would now like her to hold a different job: United States senator.
Just a year ago, it was Scott Brown who was collecting vast sums of money from conservatives nationwide who hoped claiming Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat -- and securing the 41st vote necessary to sustain filibusters -- would halt the Obamacare juggernaut. That was then, this is now. The president's health care bill became law despite Brown's opposition.
"He had his uses," a correspondent wrote to me about the disparity between Brown and Warren's recent fundraising. "Tea Partiers needed him and he needed us." Brown has since angered many of the out-of-state conservatives who sent money to his campaign with his support for Planned Parenthood and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Brown also voted for Dodd-Frank and backed President Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray for the CFPB post once intended for Warren.
Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips accused Brown of throwing conservatives "under the bus" and said the senator was motivated primarily by "self-preservation and self-promotion." "I think there will be a primary challenge," Greater Boston Tea Party president Christen Varley predicted in late 2010.
No serious primary challenger has emerged, nor is one likely to. Even many of Brown's critics acknowledge that his independent streak is designed to be competitive in Massachusetts' tough political environment. Brown will be running for reelection at the same time as Obama, who is likely to carry the commonwealth even if former Gov. Mitt Romney is the Republican presidential nominee. On Election Day Brown will need Massachusetts' unaffiliated voters more than Tea Party sympathizers living far from New England.
Where the drop-off in conservative support could hurt Brown, however, is in out-of-state fundraising. Brown can't count on the kind of outside help he enjoyed in the special election, while Warren is holding successful money bombs. Conservative money will flow to other Republican candidates in the busy 2012 election cycle and Warren will be the new sensation.
Crossroads GPS has done some advertising in Massachusetts -- Warren has called the group's adviser Karl Rove Brown's "wing man" -- though Brown isn't encouraging third party ads. Many grassroots conservatives seem at best indifferent to Brown's fate this time around, however.
Scott Brown is the rare Massachusetts Republican who has never lost an election. He knows how to win in hostile territory and under difficult circumstances. But this time around, some conservatives won't lift a finger to help him even if necessary to keep an Occupy ally out of the Senate. Brown will have to concentrate on the late Bay Stater Tip O'Neill's maxim that all politics is local instead.
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