The Magazine

The Natural ­Versus the Phony

Can a politically gifted Republican survive in Democratic Massachusetts?

Oct 8, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 04 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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When it’s Warren’s turn, the union-heavy crowd claps and cheers dutifully. But the speech is a dud. Warren reads from notes, like a professor lecturing her class. She awkwardly name-checks Boston neighborhoods in her slight Oklahoma twang: “From Roslindale to Dorchester, from East Boston to Roxbury .  .  .” She praises Menino for his multiculturalism and political paternalism: “Mayor Menino is beloved in every single community in Boston because he views every single person, regardless of color, race, gender, orientation, or anything else, as part of the family he has watched over during his time in office.”

It’s only near the end that Warren even mentions her own Senate race. “Scott Brown does not always vote the wrong way,” she says ploddingly. “But too often, when it gets right down to it, Scott Brown isn’t with you.”

Once she’s stepped off a stage, Warren looks lost. She tries to turn this into a political asset with self-deprecation. “Can you tell this is the first time I’ve run?” she’ll ask during moments of confusion, like when she’s unsure where to stand for a photo op or a gaggle with the press. In a crowd, Warren will gently shake a voter’s hand between her two palms, like a comforting grandmother.

But Massachusetts voters, including the more than 2 million unaffiliated independents, seem to prefer elected officials who slap backs, talk sports, and go by affectionate nicknames like “Teddy.” And nobody’s calling her “Lizzy.”

‘Hey, Scotty!” a young woman calls out. 

Scott Brown is visiting Sullivan’s, a hot dog stand and a South Boston institution next to the state park on Castle Island. It’s a brisk afternoon, and he’s wearing a jacket from the 2009 Boston Marathon. Brown only had three hours’ sleep before an early morning flight from Washington, where he had been up till two o’clock in the morning voting in the Senate. If he’s tired, though, it doesn’t show as the joggers and park-goers converge around him to get pictures and shake his hand.

Joining Brown at this meet-and-greet is Ray Flynn, Tom Menino’s predecessor at city hall, who left Boston to serve as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the Vatican. Flynn is a quintessential Boston Democrat, but more recently he’s been supporting Republicans like Brown. Still, he has a lot of cachet with the working-class Irish Democrats of Southie, the only Boston neighborhood Brown won in 2010.

While Brown orders food for anyone who wants some, Flynn walks around the restaurant to glad-hand. But Brown doesn’t have to seek anyone out; everyone at Sullivan’s seems drawn to him, from the kids working behind the counter to the old folks craning their necks to get a look at the famous senator. He takes the boxes of hot dogs and fries outside to a picnic table, ignoring the cameras and reporters hovering around him.

A tall middle-aged man in a flat cap named Jackie Watts comes over to say hello. Watts, a retired police lieutenant, lives in Chatham now, but he grew up in South Boston and played basketball with a kid named Johnny White. When Watts tells him this, Brown immediately recognizes the name of his basketball coach at Tufts University.

“I used to play at the boys’ club with Johnny,” Watts says.

“With Billy Endicott and those guys? You know those guys?” Brown says. “All nice people.”

“Good people,” Watts agrees.

The next day, when we meet for breakfast at a diner in Brown’s hometown of Wrentham, it’s the same story. No fewer than six people stop by our table to say hello, including a busboy who chats briefly until Brown good-naturedly tells him to “get back to work.” As we try to talk about Warren, an older man walks over and says, “I’m a Democrat, but I’m voting for you.”

Brown says he feels “balanced” about himself and his campaign. He often reminds people, on the stump and in his ads, that he’s one of the most bipartisan members of Congress. “I feel that people are very appreciative of my work ethic and the fact that I’m looking out for their pocketbooks and wallets,” he says between bites of his French toast and bacon. Then Brown shrugs. “But I’m a Republican from Massachusetts.”

A Republican, yes, but also from Massachusetts. “People recognize that I’m from this state,” Brown says. “I grew up here. I married a local Waltham girl. Our kids were born here and go to school here, and I’m probably going to die here.”

Our conversation is soon interrupted again when Brown spots a face he recognizes behind me. “Let me just say hi to this amazing friend of mine,” he says. He bounds out of the booth, arm extended.

Michael Warren is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

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