Different State, Very Different Race for Scott Brown

Different State, Very Different Race for Scott Brown
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Scott Brown's homegrown appeal was the centerpiece of his 2012 Senate re-election campaign in Massachusetts. Elizabeth Warren "is trying to nationalize the race," he told RCP during a campaign stop that year. "People are smarter than that. They understand that I’ve been here, I’m from here, I married a local girl. … That being said, [Warren’s] not.”

That pitch failed. Now, Brown’s top challenge in his race for a Senate seat in neighboring New Hampshire, where he moved last year and spent some of his childhood, is similar to one he lodged against his opponent two years ago in the Bay State.

But as Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen knows, the issue that will shape this key upper chamber race isn’t Brown’s move to New Hampshire. After all, Americans and their representatives are mobile; 44 members of the Senate were born and raised in different states than they represent -- Shaheen herself is a Missouri native -- and the term “carpetbagger” doesn’t carry the same weight it once did.  The issue is Brown’s motive. And Democrats hope to frame part of this race not around the challenger’s birthplace (Maine) or from where he most recently lived, but rather the timing of his relocation.

"People don't believe he cares about New Hampshire, they think he's more interested in self-promotion and advancing his own interests," says Harrell Kirstein, Shaheen's communications director. 

Meanwhile, in another turnaround, Brown could benefit this time from nationalizing the race in an election year where Democratic incumbents are saddled with the president’s diminished approval ratings and negative feelings about the health care law. In announcing his Senate bid last week, Brown called himself an “independent voice” for the Granite State, a contrast to the “the liberal out-of-touch Obama-Shaheen agenda.”

That tone is somewhat reminiscent of the one he struck during his 2010 special election race to fill the seat of the late Edward Kennedy. That year, he ran as the candidate who could take away the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority and potentially derail health care legislation in the Senate. But the following year, Brown separated himself from the Tea Party wave and tried to establish himself as someone who worked across the aisle -- even with the president he now assails.

The political and demographic differences between the two New England states make this a very different race for Brown. On the campaign trail in 2012, he often fondly recalled his appearances with President Obama in the Rose Garden for signings of bills he sponsored. In Massachusetts then, it made political sense for both Brown and Warren to cozy up to Obama, who had long and powerful coattails for Warren, and offered evidence of bipartisanship for her opponent. But Obama isn’t on the ballot in this year -- at least not technically -- and while he won New Hampshire twice, he isn’t as popular there now.

But neither is Brown. A recent WMUR poll found his favorability rating at just 29 percent, with 39 percent of adults having an unfavorable opinion of him, and 21 percent not knowing enough to say. The poll found 49 percent viewing Shaheen favorably, with 35 percent unfavorable, similar to their views of Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

Republicans argue that the president’s numbers are lower in the state than in 2010, when Republicans won a Senate seat, both House seats, and the state legislature, and that the GOP candidate benefits by portraying Obama as tethered to Shaheen. Brown’s recent past as the senator from Massachusetts is low hanging fruit for Democrats, state Republicans say, but they consider that a short-term liability so long as voters see him as a viable candidate.

“The thing about New Hampshire is a lot of people are from somewhere else,” says Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. The southern counties are home to Massachusetts natives who cross the border for less expensive housing and lower taxes, and still fall into the Boston media market, he explains, noting they make up about half the vote. “They’ve got a different view of New Hampshire than someone who is sixth generation born here,” he says.

That’s why Democrats are playing up Brown’s motive. We grow up being proud that people want to move here, like we do when people want to move to America, and we welcome them,” says Ray Buckley, the state Democratic Party chairman. But Brown’s timing and the way he centered his Massachusetts campaign “underscores how crass this whole candidacy is.”

Shaheen has been careful in her approach to Brown in this developing race. Instead of overtly jabbing her could-be opponent (Brown still has to win the primary, but is leading the other Republicans), Shaheen plays up her two-decades-long career in New Hampshire politics as a state legislator, governor and now senator.

Democrats point to the legislature’s approval of expanding Medicaid under the health care law and increased enrollment numbers in response to criticism of Obamacare. But Shaheen knows the liabilities. In October, she penned a letter to the president calling the enrollment website’s problems “frustrating” and “disappointing” and urged the administration to extend the enrollment period.  A conservative super PAC ran ads at the end of last year in New Hampshire hitting Shaheen for canceled insurance plans. (Ayotte supports repealing the law.)

The incumbent’s campaign is hitting Brown for refusing to sign a pledge limiting spending by outside groups in the state, similar to one he supported last cycle. Democrats slammed him on Thursday for agreeing to speak at a hedge fund conference in Las Vegas next month. And national Democrats harped on comments Brown made last month regarding the “carpetbagger” issue in an interview with the Associated Press: “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ’Cause, you know, whatever. But I have long and strong ties to this state.”

To overcome this, Brown does hope to use one technique from his Massachusetts campaigns. He is traveling the state in the same pickup truck he used in 2010 and 2012 -- though this time with New Hampshire plates, of course -- to meet and shake hands with voters. On Thursday, he tweeted two pictures from stops on the campaign trail: one in which he is holding a guitar in a Manchester music store and another in which he is touring Central Paper, “another company negatively impacted by Obamacare.”

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

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