After news surfaced Tuesday night that the widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) would not run for office in 2012, attention has again shifted to whether the toughest challenge for Sen. Scott Brown (R) may come from the right.
Brown, one of the tea party movement’s earliest stars, shocked the nation by winning Massachusetts’ January 2010 special election to replace the Senate’s liberal lion. But some of those same conservative leaders are having buyer’s remorse.
There’s no shortage of tea party activists who are unhappy with the man who was once the national movement’s poster child, according to Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party.
“I agree with them. I wish he was voting differently,” Varley told Roll Call on Wednesday. “Before the financial reform vote, we were out actually beating drums outside his office saying, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do this.’” Brown supported the Democrats’ Wall Street reform legislation, which passed with the help of a handful of Republicans.
Varley also singled out the freshman Senator’s support for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, among other votes that she called “disappointing.”
Scott Wheeler, who heads the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee, penned an opinion piece for the Daily Caller last week titled, “Why Scott Brown must be defeated.”
“An organization I run, The National Republican Trust PAC, raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Scott Brown win the Massachusetts special election to fill the seat vacated upon the death of Ted Kennedy,” Wheeler wrote. “That organization will now do everything possible to see that Brown is defeated by a primary opponent when he faces reelection in 2012. Why? Because there is no difference between him and a Democrat.”
But Wheeler’s group needs a local candidate to rally behind. Varley suggested Wheeler could have trouble finding a viable challenger. She said the Bay State tea party movement has learned from the mistakes of conservatives in places such as Delaware, where they blindly supported Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell for the Republican primary and ultimately handed a Senate seat to Democrats.
“She was kind of out there,” Varley said of O’Donnell. “That’s part of the political education that we try to give people through the tea party movement — that it’s all well and good to have principles, but we also want to make sure we can get people elected.”
She continued: “Scott Brown is probably right now the most conservative person we can get elected in Massachusetts. It’s our job to find people who will be more with us than against us. Is it worth it to go after Brown? I don’t think it’s a good idea to go after him.”
That said, Varley expects a primary challenger to emerge from the tea party movement. But she does not expect that challenger to have the strength to be able to knock off Brown, who has more moderate appeal than some think, in addition to a $6.7 million war chest.
“I don’t think anybody in the tea party movement in Massachusetts has learned enough in the last year to launch and effective primary campaign against him,” she said. “But I think there will be people who try.”
Brown, who won his race one year ago to fill the remainder of Kennedy’s term, will be up for a full six-year term in 2012. Roll Call Politics rates this race a Tossup.safe
The short list of potential candidates includes recent losing GOP Congressional candidates Jeff Perry and Keith Lepor as well as former Senate candidates Jeff Beatty and Jim Ogonowski.
Varley doesn’t expect any of them to knock off Brown.
“It is interesting that [tea party] people will say Scott Brown needs to be defeated, and you say, OK, who can beat him?’ And it’s crickets,” she said. “I think Scott Brown is completely safe.”
Each year since 1990, CQ Roll Call has reviewed the financial disclosures of all 541 senators, representatives and delegates to determine the 50 richest members of Congress. This year's report, derived from forms covering the calendar year 2012, shows it took a net worth of $6.67 million to crack the exclusive club.