‘You’ll know things are serious when I show up in my pickup truck,” Scott Brown told Iowa Republicans in November. The former Massachusetts senator’s trademark GMC Canyon hasn’t made it to the Great Plains yet, but it has been making the rounds in another swing state: New Hampshire, where he recently moved after selling his Massachusetts home. This Thursday, he’ll headline the Granite State GOP’s holiday bash.
Some see it as the opening salvo in Brown’s third bid for a U.S. Senate seat, this one challenging New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen. The 54-year-old Brown has become a familiar face in New Hampshire of late, and his appearance at tonight’s event is fueling further speculation that he is getting ready to run. Like 2010, when Brown surged from behind to become the first Bay State Republican elected to the Senate in nearly three decades, 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for the GOP and, within the party, the powers that be are urging him to jump into the race.
“He has spent quite a bit of time up here this year, and what I’ve heard on the ground has been very positive,” New Hampshire GOP chairwoman Jennifer Horn tells me. “Scott Brown would bring instant energy to the race and give Granite Staters the opportunity to hold Jeanne Shaheen accountable for deceiving them with the promise that they could keep their health plans and doctors if they wanted to,” says National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director Brad Dayspring. An outside group, the super PAC Ending Spending, bankrolled by TD Ameritrade billionaire Joe Ricketts, is already pouring money into the state on Brown’s behalf. This month, it went up with a television spot across the state attacking Shaheen for repeating the president’s promise that Americans could keep their health-insurance plans, and has circulated a petition to “Draft Scott Brown for Senate.”
Brown has toyed with reentering public life since his defeat in 2012 by Elizabeth Warren, openly considering a run for the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated this year by John Kerry and dipping his toe in the national political waters when he headlined the Scott County Republican party’s Ronald Reagan dinner in Bettendorf, Iowa, just last month.
Matthew Scully, a GOP speechwriter who has worked for George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, penned those remarks. Brown’s message has focused on fiscal restraint and Obamacare, the issue that carried him into the Senate in 2010. “Ladies and gentlemen, this nation fought and won the Second World War in three years and eight months,” he told the crowd in Iowa. “In the same amount of time, the Obama administration couldn’t even build a website. And we are supposed to trust the federal government to run our health care? No thanks!”
But so far, Brown has no formal campaign apparatus, and his inner circle remains tight, populated by Romney’s closest advisers — Eric Fehrnstrom, Peter Flaherty, and Beth Myers — Massachusetts politicos who came to know Brown when he served as a member of the Massachusetts senate during Romney’s tenure as governor.
Team Romney is familiar with accusations of being insufficiently conservative; if Brown runs for the New Hampshire nomination, it would field them again. The former Massachusetts state senator is a gun-control advocate in a state known for its enthusiastic and bipartisan support for gun rights. Within the GOP, he would face opposition from the right for his pro-choice views, to say nothing of the inevitable accusations of carpetbagging from all sides. “There is a significant chunk of New Hampshire voters who are not just going to roll over because the darling from Massachusetts just moved into the state,” says a prominent Republican strategist.
New Hampshire, suffice it to say, is not Massachusetts: Kelly Ayotte, the state’s sitting Republican senator, beat a much more conservative primary challenger in 2010, Ovide LaMontagne, by just over 1,600 votes. Brown, though, outgoing and affable, excels at the sort of door-to-door campaigning that New Hampshire has been known to reward, and his skills as a campaigner and fundraiser may help him overcome his ideological handicap.
If there is one factor clearly weighing in Brown’s favor, it’s Obamacare, which has brought the president’s approval rating to record lows. With the implosion of the law, Republican strategists see the 2014 Senate map broadening, and Shaheen as a particularly vulnerable target for Brown. “Remember,” says a GOP strategist, “he got elected as the 41st vote to stop Obamacare in a state far bluer than New Hampshire. He has proven that he can beat popular, female, well-known statewide officeholders on this issue.” In 2010, Brown defeated Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley in the race for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat and brought an end to Democrats’ 60-seat majority.
Poll numbers indicate that Brown’s entry into the race would upend the current GOP field. He would face former senator Bob Smith, former state senator Jim Rubens, and conservative activist Karen Testerman in the primary. An October New England College poll showed Brown with a commanding lead over his potential challengers, and another, released Tuesday, had him outpolling Smith among Republicans by six points. The president’s approval rating in the state, meanwhile, stands at an abysmal 31 percent, down eleven points from just three weeks ago.
Despite pressure from the party’s power brokers, Brown is not expected to announce his intentions in the coming days or even weeks. The state’s election calendar caters to his indecision: The filing deadline isn’t till June, and the primary isn’t until September 9.
“The reality is only Scott knows what he is going to do,” says a GOP strategist, “and he is keeping his own counsel.”
Shaheen currently sits at a desk in the Senate chamber that was once occupied by Daniel Webster, a New Hampshire congressman who later became a senator from Massachusetts. The GOP strategist is hopeful: “It’s as though history is calling Scott Brown to occupy the Webster desk.”
— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.