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Will Scott Brown Run for Senate in N.H.?

Will Scott Brown Run for Senate in N.H.?

By Scott Conroy - November 1, 2013

Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown is spending a lot of time in neighboring New Hampshire this autumn, and it has nothing to do with checking out the fall foliage.

After losing his seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren last November, Brown passed on subsequent Senate and gubernatorial bids in Massachusetts and instead has been exploring a run for office in the Granite State, where he owns a home.

Earlier this month, Brown established a New Hampshire-based political action committee, and he has been making the rounds at GOP fundraising events and other political functions across the state.

On Monday, the man who rose to fame in 2010 by succeeding Ted Kennedy in the Senate delivered a well-received speech to the Nashua Rotary Club, in which he said he is leaning toward a return to the public realm.

“I don’t think I’m done,” he said when asked if his name would be on a ballot again, according to the Nashua Telegraph.

Though Brown in other recent appearances throughout New Hampshire has been clear about his interest in running for something, he has not specified which office.

The most obvious option would be to challenge to Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in her re-election bid next year. Brown would bring a slew of assets to such a campaign, including solid name recognition, his reputation for bipartisan approaches in a swing state that values political moderates, and a formidable national fundraising network to help him compete with the well-financed incumbent.

But there are at least as many reasons to believe he ultimately will pass on the race.

Though he has extensive family roots in New Hampshire, Brown lacks deep political ties in a state where the small population and tight-knit political culture makes such connections particularly valuable.

While his centrism would be an attractive asset in a general election, it would be a far tougher sell in a GOP primary.

And then there is the potential competition.

No top-tier Republican candidates have yet jumped into the contest, but former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass appears to be increasingly serious about doing so. He was in Washington this week to confer with Republican Senate leaders about a possible challenge to Shaheen, the New Hampshire Union-Leader reported.

The former GOP congressman would enter the race as a strong front-runner in the primary, whether Brown is competing or not.

And despite Brown’s visible public movements in the state, he has been less active behind the scenes.

“Despite those appearances over the past several months, there are no signs of [Brown] organizing the state, or even quietly lining up grassroots support,” said New Hampshire GOP consultant Jamie Burnett, who noted that Brown’s strengths, including his everyman persona, would make him a formidable candidate if he does decide to get in.

Shaheen is widely regarded as a strong campaigner who has built a solid team during her first term in office, while also maintaining a visible presence in the state over the last five years.

In a survey conducted in September by the Democratically affiliated Public Policy Polling, the incumbent led all of her potential Republican rivals in a general election matchup, including Bass, whom she topped by 51 percent to 41 percent.

Brown, however, was the most competitive Republican polled, trailing Shaheen by just a four-point margin, 48 percent to 44 percent.

The Shaheen campaign is paying attention to the threat that Brown might pose, using the specter of his entry to help add to her war chest with a flurry of fundraising emails this week.

New Hampshire Democrats emphasize that Shaheen, who previously served as governor for six years, remains the most popular statewide elected official and that Brown has not demonstrated any semblance of the coherent strategy that would be needed to take her on.

“I heard that his next event might be at a garage door opening,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley joked of Brown’s forays into non-partisan municipal elections in the state. “I’m just not sure what he’s up to. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you’ve got to take everybody seriously, I guess.”

Most neutral observers in the state remain unconvinced that Brown will get into the race after passing up what seemed like a better opportunity to run for governor in Massachusetts.

“On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being utmost seriousness) I would put Brown’s seriousness at a 2, and I would say about the same for how seriously people in the state are taking him,” University of New Hampshire political analyst Dante Scala said in an email. “I’m just not convinced he’s serious about giving up his (lucrative) day job to take on a popular incumbent in a state not his own.”

But if Brown does ultimately pass on running in New Hampshire, might he eventually aim even higher?

He spent time in Iowa over the summer and is set to head back to the nation’s first voting state for a November fundraiser.

Brown has not at this point taken more substantial steps that would indicate an earnest interest in mounting a 2016 White House bid, but some observers are convinced that the presidential forays are for real.

“I think he’s running for president,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

But Brown’s hurdles in mounting a serious presidential campaign would be high, to say the least. After losing his bid for a full Senate term last year, the man who was once widely regarded as a future leader of a retooled GOP has faded from the national political radar.

And as Jon Huntsman’s lesson in futility demonstrated during the 2012 presidential campaign, there appears to be minimal appetite for a self-styled moderate candidate among Republican primary voters.

But Brown may be holding out the possibility of a presidential run as a means to bolster his profile, thus benefiting his law practice and his status as a Fox News contributor.

It’s certainly a strategy that has worked wonders for several recent GOP hopefuls, who have boosted their own brands via White House bids that were either doomed from the beginning or never got off the ground.

When it comes to his more realistic potential Senate bid, however, Brown will have to make up his mind soon. It has been a month since the conservative New Hampshire Union-Leader skewered him in an editorial bluntly titled “Hey, Scott Brown: Stop flirting with NH.”

In the next few weeks, he will have to decide whether to jump into the Senate campaign headfirst after having his toe in the water for so long. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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