Greenbaum: Unlikely Sen. Brown Is Making Smart Moves

Posted April 26, 2010 at 6:55pm

Scott Brown is on the path to re-election?    

[IMGCAP(1)]Frankly, I never thought Brown had a ghost of a chance to win the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat in the first place, and when he did, he looked like the ultimate fluke staring at a short Senate career. In the Massachusetts state Senate, Brown was known as something of a right-leaning firebrand; though that probably didn’t mean much in a chamber where he was just one of five Republicans out of 40 Senators. Nonetheless, I expected him to be an outspoken partisan in Washington. 

But after watching him during his three months in office, I’m coming to believe that Brown is pretty sharp and is well-
positioned to win a full term in 2012. In his short tenure, the commonwealth’s new junior Senator has exhibited some good political instincts. 

Coming off of his unprecedented win and arriving as the vote to deny Senate Democrats a filibuster-proof majority, Brown could have assumed the mantle of a national conservative leader as many Republicans expected him to and become a fixture on Fox News Channel. Heck, within days of his win, the Palin-Brown for president ticket was already being amplified in GOP circles. 

Despite the gravity of his victory — a Republican winning a Senate seat in Massachusetts is nothing short of miraculous — Brown has not made much of a personal splash. 

Rather than become a right-wing show horse, Brown has so far opted to be a centrist, as was evidenced by his first vote in the Senate when he sided with Democrats on a jobs bill. More recently, his decision to completely skip the tea party rally held at Boston Common was the right one to make and photos of him beside the extremely divisive Sarah Palin would not have bolstered his political standing in the state.

Votes like these may not endear him to hard-core Republicans — notably, Glenn Beck trashed Brown after this first major vote and conservatives were upset with his skipping the rally. That Brown was able to resist the self-aggrandizing temptations that come with being an overnight political sensation speak well to his own acumen, and it will help ensure his electoral future. Tea partyers will not determine his next election. 

And so far, Brown’s efforts appear to be working. While early, a March Rasmussen poll found that 70 percent of state voters approved of Brown’s job in the Senate, and anecdotally, Brown got an excellent reception at the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, a South Boston and Massachusetts institution. Frankly, Brown’s genial, regular guy persona and his pickup truck are a sharp and welcome contrast to the rest of Massachusetts’ stale political power structure embodied by the impossibly aloof Sen. John Kerry (D) and the ineffectual Gov. Deval Patrick (D). 

The $64,000 question, then, is whether Brown can win a full term in 2012 when he will face the added challenges of having to wage a longer campaign — contrasted with the one-month special election he won — and have to run in a presidential year when Barack Obama can be expected to win Massachusetts handily regardless of the national environment. Indeed, the Bay State’s blue landscape remains scary terrain for any GOP candidate. 

But the potential field of challengers Brown could face is not so imposing. The Massachusetts Congressional delegation is notoriously risk-averse, as evidenced by all but one of them refusing to run in the Democratic primary against state Attorney General Martha Coakley, the historically inept candidate Brown vanquished in the special election. 

Assuming they are all still in office, Reps. John Olver and Barney Frank will be too old to run for Senate in 2012; Reps. Richard Neal, Jim McGovern and Ed Markey won’t give up their seniority; and Reps. Niki Tsongas and John Tierney simply don’t have the political moxie to run and win. 

To be sure, Reps. Stephen Lynch and Mike Capuano, both of Boston, could mount viable challenges, but Lynch has lost his some support in his district, particularly from unions, and Capuano may be past his prime after badly losing the special primary to Coakley. Oh, and forget Patrick, who remains highly unpopular and might lose his bid for re-election this year, much less be a robust political force come 2012.

The largest obstacle for Brown would be a Kennedy candidacy, either from Ted’s widow, Vicki, or from his nephew Joe, but it is questionable if either would run. Vicki has no desire to serve in office; had she possessed such interest, she would have run for her husband’s seat in the first place. 

As for Joe, he has never been one to take political risks and demurred running in the special election in large part because of Coakley’s perceived strength. Then again, if Brown is no longer in the voters’ confidences in two years, all bets are off. And he hasn’t been completely error-free: His decision to publicly support a filibuster of the financial reform bill was absolutely ill-conceived and a foolish political move. 

But consider that Brown’s 5-point victory will be tough for any opponent to scale back. This is particularly true given the wide and diverse winning coalition he assembled: With the exception of the cities and liberal and lightly populated Western Massachusetts, the statewide special election map is blotted almost all red. 

And that doesn’t even take into account that Brown had more than $6 million on hand after his special election win; he expects to be a stout fundraiser for Republicans who take glee in having Kennedy’s seat. 

With all this in mind, a Scott Brown encore victory in 2012 is not quite as unfathomable as generally thought, so long as Brown does not suddenly tack to the far right and continues to avoid the type of outlandish statements and outbursts common to several of his Republican Congressional colleagues. It’s true, as crazy as it sounds. 

Mark Greenbaum is a writer based in Washington, D.C.