Democrats say Republican Sen. Scott Brown is their top 2012 target as they hope to flip his Massachusetts seat. But they have no clear favorite candidate to challenge him.
Democrats insist that Sen. Scott Brown’s seat is their top target heading into 2012. On the ground in Massachusetts, however, there has been much speculation, but no top-tier challengers have emerged to face the man who may be the nation’s most vulnerable Republican Senator.
Fear not, some Democrats say. It’s all part of the plan.
Democrats are pushing a story line suggesting that their chances of overtaking Brown will improve the longer they wait to identify a challenger. The absence of a top Democratic recruit, they say, allows labor unions and groups such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to intensify an aggressive campaign to define Brown, who has been largely popular among Bay State voters during his first 14 months in office.
“It’s not in our best interests to [have a challenger] this far out, just so that the Republicans can attack our candidate,” one Democratic strategist said.
Indeed, Democrats may be best served by focusing the Senate race on Brown, a Republican in a state where Democrats hold a 25-point voter registration advantage. And Brown, who has amassed a war chest of nearly $7.2 million, is facing the daunting task of earning his first full Senate term on a ballot that will be topped by President Barack Obama, who won Massachusetts by 26 points in 2008.
A Brown campaign spokesman didn’t want to speculate on his boss’s potential rivals but said he expects the Democrats will find a candidate at some point. “We will welcome the competition when it comes,” Eric Fehrnstrom said.
In a cycle in which Senate Democrats will largely be on the defensive across the nation, the DSCC is thrilled to have an opportunity to play offense. They feel Brown has escaped political attacks since he shocked the nation by riding tea party support to victory in the January 2010 special election to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D).
“A loyal opposition to Scott Brown is emerging, and I don’t think to this point, his operation has shown any skill in dealing with it,” said DSCC spokesman Matt Canter, noting the Senator’s recent challenge explaining why he supports maintaining taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.
Canter also highlighted DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil’s recent trip to Massachusetts, in part to focus attention on the Brown race.
“They’ve done a great job crafting Brown’s image,” Canter said. “But he got caught up in the Planned Parenthood thing. That didn’t demonstrate the same level of coolness that we’re used to seeing ... He got caught striking different poses to different people. It’s a lot harder to do when someone’s shaking the rope.”
The DSCC, of course, will not be the only one shaking the rope.
Brown earned relatively strong support from organized labor in his special election victory, and union leaders have already begun working to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
“People, including myself, didn’t pay enough attention the first time,” said Frank Callahan, president of the 75,000-member Massachusetts Building Trades Council. “All my members knew was that he seemed like a reasonable guy and drove a pickup truck and wore a barn coat. But if he keeps voting like this, he’s going to need more than a pickup truck and a barn coat to get re-elected. We’re informing our members this time.”
Callahan’s organization is already distributing regular information via email and social media about Brown’s voting record to union members across the state. And the Building Trades Council is committed to going door-to-door if necessary to ensure Brown’s positions are known.
“A lot of these procedural votes, he may think a lot is going to slide through unrecognized,” Callahan said. “They won’t.”
Labor unions will be joined by progressive organizations such as the Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters in their efforts to define Brown.
The Republican Senator earned the worst possible rating in a recent national scorecard of key environmental votes, according to Lora Wondolowski, executive director of the group. She thinks the environment could be a “litmus test” for voters.
“We were active [in Brown’s first run]. But it was such a short election cycle, it was really hard for any issue to break through the fray,” she said.
Roll Call Politics rates this contest a Tossup. The dynamic of the race will shift dramatically after the Democratic field takes shape. An expensive and crowded Democratic primary is possible, according to Phil Johnson, former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
He says at least three candidates are all but certain to run: former Lt. Gov. candidate Bob Massie, Newton Mayor Setti Warren and City Year founder Alan Khazei.
“They haven’t announced publicly, but I think it’s pretty clear they’re interested in running,” said Johnson, who has spoken with each of them. Reps. Mike Capuano and Stephen Lynch are also being watched closely.
Johnson is concerned about the effect of a negative primary.
“If several Democrats get into the primary and engage in a bloody fight, then we can kiss this seat goodbye for six years,” he said. “That would be a very serious mistake.”
And he challenged the suggestion by some Democrats that time is on their side.
“There’s sufficient time left to raise the money that would be required to defeat him. But I think the window is closing. One would need to decide within the next 60 to 90 days in order to be successful,” he said, adding that attacks from Washington could help weaken Brown but that local media in particular would more likely report criticism by an actual Democratic candidate on the ground in Massachusetts.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, meanwhile, laughed off the suggestion that Democratic candidates are wise to delay a formal challenge.
“This is far and away one of the worst efforts at spin I’ve ever seen,” NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. “But considering Sen. Brown’s $7 million and growing war chest and poll numbers, then by all means I’d encourage national Democrats to keep believing it.”