To quote ABC’s Wide World of Sports, in the space of less than three years, Scott Brown has experienced “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” In January 2010, the Massachusetts Republican scored the upset of the century by winning “the people’s seat” in a special Senate election. However, last month, Brown lost by eight points to Elizabeth Warren as she regained “Ted Kennedy’s seat.”
But if Slim Pickens were still alive he might very well ask, “What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?” After all, Brown might not be down and out for long. Should President Obama appoint Massachusetts’ senior Senator John Kerry to his cabinet (be it his Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense), there will be yet another special Senate election in 2013. Given Brown’s name recognition and resources, he would be hard pressed not to make another bid for the Senate.
But Democrats wanting to avoid another 2010 would likely put up a heavyweight against Brown as they did with Warren this year. Current Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick would fit that bill. If Brown were to lose to Patrick that would all but stop his political career dead in its tracks. Of course, even if Brown somehow pulled off another miracle in 2013, he would have to run again in the 2014 election when Kerry’s current term ends. Four Senate elections in five years might be a bit much. In the grand scheme of things, it would probably be more viable for Brown to recharge his batteries and return to familiar terrain on Beacon Hill rather than Capitol Hill and seek the corner office in 2014.
To begin with, Governor Patrick indicated shortly after his re-election in 2010 that he would not seek a third term. At the moment, Lieutenant-Governor Tim Murray, a former mayor of Worcester (Massachusetts’ second largest city), is the odds-on favorite to become the Democratic Party’s standard bearer. But Patrick is going to be a hard act to follow. Murray lacks Patrick’s charisma and dramatic life story. When Patrick was elected Governor in 2006, he became only the second African American to attain such an office since Reconstruction (Douglas Wilder was the first in Virginia back in 1989). Patrick is often likened to President Obama and indeed David Axelrod was involved in Patrick’s 2006 campaign.
All of this to say a Brown vs. Murray match up could work in Brown’s favor. Brown has more name recognition and it remains to be seen if the Democratic base that was so enthusiastic for Patrick and Warren would make the same effort for Murray.
While it is true that Massachusetts is a deeply entrenched blue state, it must be remembered that Bay State voters have shown a willingness to elect Republican Governors. In four successive elections between 1990 and 2002, voters sent Bill Weld (twice), Paul Cellucci, and Mitt Romney to the corner office.
Naturally, one could argue that if Brown could be elected to the Senate once, he could get elected again. But there were a unique set of circumstances and conditions in the 2010 special election which are unlikely to replicate themselves ever again. First, the debate over Obamacare was at its peak and the Tea Party was nearing its zenith. Despite his credentials as a moderate, Brown was viewed as the only thing stopping Obamacare as a 41st GOP Senator would prevent a Democratic filibuster proof majority. Remember when Brown would include 41 in his autograph? Second, the Democrats fielded an incredibly weak candidate in Martha Coakley, who didn’t want to stand in the cold outside Fenway Park to shake hands with Massachusetts voters and considered Red Sox legend Curt Schilling “another Yankee fan.” Bay State Democrats won’t make that mistake again.
The point here is that the stars had to align perfectly in order for Brown to be elected to the Senate and those stars are not likely to align in such a way ever again. Brown does not face such astronomical odds in a gubernatorial race.
Of course, all of this assumes that President Obama will appoint John Kerry to his cabinet in the first place. Let’s suppose Obama sees fit not to pluck Kerry from the Senate. If you’re Scott Brown in 2014 do you run for the Senate against Kerry? Hell, no. It would be 1996 all over again between Kerry and Weld. But suppose Kerry decides not to seek a sixth term. Brown would have to ask himself if he’d rather run against Patrick for the Senate or against Murray for Governor. I think Brown will conclude that he is better off staying in Massachusetts.