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One bare-chested, above-the-fold photo in a local newspaper does not a campaign make, but that hasn’t stopped rampant speculation in New Hampshire and on Capitol Hill about when — or whether — former Massachusetts Sen. Scott P. Brown might hop into the Granite State’s 2014 Senate race.
There is perhaps no greater mystery this cycle than Brown, the Republican who sold his Massachusetts home and moved to New Hampshire a year after his 2012 Bay State defeat at the hands of Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
New Hampshire Republicans seem anxiety-ridden over whether Brown will run; most sources approached for this story tabbed the chances of that at 50-50. If the well-known and potentially well-financed Brown opts out, many Republicans believe their chance to capture Democrat Jeanne Shaheen’s seat will drop significantly.
“At least to the establishment Republicans, pragmatic conservatives, realists, the field that we have now doesn’t have a credible candidate,” said Fergus Cullen, a former state GOP chairman and current consultant.
Cullen, who penned a column in the New Hampshire Union-Leader last month urging Brown to run, said that to the extent people are already talking about the race in GOP circles — at lunches, over beers — “It’s just despondence about the quality of the field.”
But it appears those Republicans will have to wait with bated breath for Brown’s decision. Those closest to the former senator say he is keeping his cards close to the vest and might not announce his plans until April or May. New Hampshire’s filing deadline is in June and the primary is not until Sept. 9, the latest of the cycle.
National Republicans say they are still in contact with Brown and downplay any negative ramifications of a late start for the proven fundraiser’s campaign. But they also concede that his potential entry would be crucial in expanding the playing field for the GOP, which needs to net six seats to recapture control of the Senate. Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates this race Favored Democratic.
Multiple sources said they believe a late entry in the race could work to Brown’s advantage. It would allow for a shortened primary calendar and, in turn, less bruising from more conservative opponents. Of course, for that strategy to work, the assumption that Brown can raise money and build a campaign infrastructure quickly would have to be true — assuming there’s even a strategy at all.
Indeed, “there is no strategy” is a common refrain from both Republicans — in various rings of the Brown orbit — and Democrats. And events and bizarre markers from the past week seem to bear out that claim, from the much-buzzed-about shirtless photo in the Union-Leader taken at a charity polar bear swim to a separation of ties with a vendor, Newsmax.com, that blasted out a bizarre article to Brown’s email list Wednesday morning about Alzheimer’s disease conspiracy theories.
Brown’s contact with Republicans in the Granite State has so far been relatively elusive. Sources told CQ Roll Call that Brown has given no hint of his political intentions in responses to their inquiring emails, including those sent after the shirtless photograph appeared. Instead, the former senator responded to those notes with the playful retort that he wasn’t even flexing.
“I talk to him periodically,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who noted she had a friendly relationship with the then-Massachusetts Republican when he was in the Senate. “You’ll have to talk to him, I really don’t have any special insight.”
CQ Roll Call attempted multiple times to reach Brown via telephone and he did not return a voicemail message.
By dragging out his decision process, Brown risks stringing along national Republicans in a way that might close doors to future races. And though there was more outward energy toward a potential Brown run, it seems that some operatives have cooled on the idea that he will actually commit to campaigning for the seat.
“I don’t think Scott Brown runs, but my wife hopes I look like he does when I am 50,” quipped one Republican consultant.
Even if the establishment wins out and gets its guy to run, Brown still faces other issues. In addition to combatting a potential “carpetbagger” narrative, can he be victorious in a traditionally swing state if he’s unable to win over the conservative end of his own base?
At his last major public event in New Hampshire, a Dec. 19 state party holiday event in Nashua, 250 gun rights advocates protested Brown’s appearance. And questions about his conservative credentials could come from any of his potential opponents — the declared GOP candidates include former Sen. Bob Smith, former state Sen. Jim Rubens and tea party activist Karen Testerman.
In a chance interview aboard a flight from D.C. to New Hampshire, a CQ Roll Call reporter asked Smith about Brown. Smith said the choice for Granite State voters would be between him, a conservative, and Brown, a moderate.
The available fourth-quarter fundraising reports for his potential opponents show a wide disparity, given that Shaheen already has $3.4 million in cash on hand. In his race against Warren, the most expensive of the 2012 cycle, Brown spent nearly $35 million, only to lose by 8 points.
As for the outsider narrative, Cullen suggested a famous “template” for a Brown run: Hillary Rodham Clinton, who won a New York Senate race in 2000.
“There’s no point in pretending that he’s something that he’s not, just like Hillary Clinton didn’t pretend she was a life-long Yankees fan or lived in New York all her life. ... She just said this is who I am,” Cullen said. “The people who are going to complain that he’s a carpetbagger weren’t going to be with him anyway.”