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Indian Spring

Another Massachusetts miracle for Scott Brown?

Jun 4, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 36 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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Newton, Mass.

Gov Scott Brown

Gov Scott Brown

AP Michael Dwyer

The event was called “Hoops for Our Troops,” and it was held on Armed Forces Day (May 19) in a high school gym here in Newton. The mayor, Setti Warren, came up with the idea. He is an Iraq war veteran himself and passionate about helping vets. The event brought veterans together with potential employers as well as representatives from job training programs, health care providers, counseling services, and others. Spice for the event came in the form of two basketball games. In one, the players were disabled veterans in wheelchairs. The other game, which was the draw, was between teams that were a mix of vets and local celebrities, mostly from broadcasting and sports, among them Kevin Faulk of the New England Patriots. Mayor Warren also suited up to play.

This was a made-to-order opportunity, then, for any capable, hustling politician looking to connect with constituents, early in a tough campaign. So Senator Scott Brown, who is an officer in the National Guard with some brief service in Afghanistan, arrived a little before halftime in the second game and worked the room. He goofed a little with the players. Shook a lot of hands. Did not make a speech and, in general, kept things low-key and casual. He was either enjoying himself and happy to be there, or very gifted at pretending to be. Which, in his line of work, probably amounts to the same thing.

It is fortunate for Brown that he is good at this sort of thing because if he intends to win in the league where he has chosen to compete, then he is going to have to play large. He is, first of all, a Republican, and no matter how hard you try, you can only go so far in ameliorating that liability in Massachusetts, which is among the bluest of the blue states. So blue, in fact, that Mitt Romney, who once managed to get himself elected governor of Massachusetts, is certain to concede the state as a lock for President Obama.

The Senate seat which Scott Brown now occupies was held for 46 years by Ted Kennedy. It is still considered by many to be “the Kennedy seat,” though Brown got some traction in the 2010 special election to fill the two years remaining in Kennedy’s term after his death by insisting that it is “the people’s seat.” Nice point, but then most of “the people” are Democrats.

Brown was expected to lose that election, and he might have, except that it was the time of the Tea Party ascendant, and opposition to Obamacare was running high. Voters knew that Brown might represent the needed 40th vote to keep a filibuster alive in the Senate.

He also had the good fortune to run against a political stiff who established her empathetic detachment from the voters of her state when she said that Curt Schilling, the warrior pitcher for the Red Sox, was “a Yankees fan.” This was a tectonic political gaffe that played straight to Brown’s personal appeal. He was, after all, an athlete himself, a good-looking guy with a glamorous wife (a TV newswoman), attractive daughters, and a pickup truck. Not a regular guy, exactly, but definitely the kind of guy that regular guys around Boston would like to be and could imagine themselves being, if things had only gone a little differently.

Brown was the nearly ideal anti-elitist candidate, in other words. And he won. Democrats were horrified and angry. A Republican man had defeated a Democratic woman in a contest for “the Kennedy seat.” This was sacrilege or worse.

Brown, of course, had only two years to build a record of votes and constituent service—and to create a media-shaped personality—before he would be obliged to run again. And this time, the Democrats would not be caught by surprise or take him lightly.

In Washington, Senate Democrats used a parliamentary maneuver that made it impossible to stop Obama-care by filibuster. Brown was not able to play Horatio at that particular bridge. But he became the potential 60th vote to break a filibuster of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Brown conducted extended negotiations with Rep. Barney Frank. Except for the fact that both are from Massachusetts, these two could not be more unalike—in temperament, appearance, and politics. Still, they managed to reach some kind of agreement, and Brown did cast that 60th vote. The Dodd-Frank bill became law, and it would not have happened except for Brown’s vote. He may have hoped that this would buy him some love back home, but his opposition in Massachusetts seems determined not to let what Barney Frank considers Brown’s good deed go unpunished.

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