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Scott Brown Banks on "Regular Guy" Image in Senate Race

Scott Brown Banks on "Regular Guy" Image in Senate Race

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - April 26, 2012


FRAMINGHAM, Mass. -- On opening day of Little League season, Republican Sen. Scott Brown helps out a coach by picking up an equipment bag and carrying it to a ball field here in this town 20 miles west of Boston. The ball-capped kids sitting on the benches may not recognize the lawmaker, wearing a blue dress shirt and a Red Sox tie with tiny blue B's on it -- but many of their parents do.

"I'm undecided but I'm leaning towards Brown," says Joe King while watching his children play. “He seems like a regular good guy; he seems like someone who comes down to a field, or someone who, if you saw him at a bar, you’d have a drink with him, you know?” King says he plans to vote for President Obama in November, but he also considers himself more of a conservative Democrat and Brown a moderate Republican.

Voters like King are the kind Brown wants to attract in his close re-election contest against Democratic consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren -- a marquee race that could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year. (Brown holds a one-point lead in the RCP polling average.) But unlike the other states with competitive Senate races, Massachusetts is heavily Democratic. To latch onto Obama’s coattails, Warren is waging her campaign on the national party theme of economic fairness.

And unlike his GOP colleagues, Brown is running a locally focused campaign, hoping that working-class and conservative Democrats and the growing number of independents in the Bay State see him the way Joe King does: as an everyman who can legislate in Washington but come home to catch a game and throw back a cold one.

It’s an effective strategy, Republican analysts say, and it could help him lure votes away from Warren. But the presidential candidate with whom he will share the ticket in November might complicate things for Brown. After five primary wins Tuesday night, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has virtually secured the GOP nomination and is sharpening his attacks on the president and the Democratic agenda. That’s not the route Brown -- who recently stood smiling in the Rose Garden next to Obama as the president signed his congressional insider-trading bill known as the STOCK Act -- wants to take.

“Even though [Romney’s] a former governor and Massachusetts resident, he’s not the popular-son candidate,” says veteran Boston-based Republican strategist Rob Gray. “Romney being on the ticket is a significant factor and it’s a very tricky road to navigate.”

Obama’s margin of victory “isn’t going to change with a former Massachusetts governor on the ticket,” says Gray. “Romney wasn’t popular . . . at the end of his gubernatorial term, in large part because he shifted from being a moderate to being a conservative on a whole host of issues. Brown will have to separate himself from Romney in some way, even though he’s very closely connected to him.”

Romney and Brown also share the same top political adviser. Eric Fehrnstrom helped the latter defeat Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in a special election two years ago to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate term.

Brown insists that sharing the ballot with Romney won’t be a problem because he has done it before when running for state senator. “Mitt’s one of the nicest, honest, hard-working men I’ve ever met,” he says in an interview with RealClearPolitics after a recent voter-registration drive in Worcester. “When it comes to the economic issues, there’s no one who can handle things like he can, and that’s a good thing. People of Massachusetts recognize and remember that we were in deep financial straits, and through his leadership, he was able to navigate us out of that. And they respect him for that.” Asked whether he and Romney will campaign together, Brown replies that he doesn’t think the GOP standard-bearer will spend much time in the state, “so I’m going to do my own thing. If we can marry up sometimes, that’s fine.”

Even if Romney doesn’t pay many visits to Massachusetts, he will be campaigning in the neighboring swing state New Hampshire, and the presidential candidate and outside groups will buy advertising the Boston media market, which could hurt Brown.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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