Democrats struggle to beat maverick Sen. Brown in Massachusetts

June 10, 2011

By Michael O’Brien -The Hill

Scott Brown has spent most of his Senate career with a target on his back. But his maverick voting record and fundraising prowess have positioned him to achieve the unthinkable: winning statewide reelection in Massachusetts as a Republican.

Brown has, so far, avoided drawing a serious challenger in his bid for a full, six-year term, despite the Bay State’s traditionally Democratic hue.

“He has not been the caricature. Yes, he’s made himself more electable by being more moderate,” said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who passed on a challenge to Brown. And Frank said he expects other members of the delegation to stay out of the race as well, in part due to Brown’s strength.


“I do think it’s very unlikely that a member of the delegation will run, and in that sense Brown’s strength has discouraged candidacies,” he said.

Brown has sought to project a centrist image since being elected to the Senate in a special election in January of 2010 to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D). He supported Democrats’ financial regulatory reform bill last year, and was one of a handful of Republicans to vote in favor of eliminating the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“Massachusetts is not Texas, so I think demonstrating some independence and not party-line votes is good for his survival,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the chairman of Senate Republicans’ campaign committee.

Indeed, Public Policy Polling (PPP), a Democratic firm, released a new survey on Tuesday showing Brown with a lead over all Democratic challengers. He bests Martha Coakley (D), the state attorney general whom he beat in 2010, and who polls most competitively against Brown, 49-40 percent, with 10 percent undecided.

Brown’s advisers have sought to carefully manage how he’s built his public profile; he embarked on a press tour earlier this year to promote a new book, in which he revealed that he was a victim of physical and sexual abuse as a child. And Brown announced that he’d asked to spend his mandatory two weeks of duty as a National Guardsman in Afghanistan this year. His political advisers cast him as an independent senator who’s kept his head down and focused on state issues during a year and a half in Washington.

“Sen. Brown was elected to do a job, he takes that job seriously, and his focus right now is on working with people from both sides of the aisle to create jobs and promote fiscal responsibility in Washington,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a top adviser to both Brown’s campaign and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) presidential bid.

Brown has also taken steps to bone up on his political chops. He established a political action committee in early June, and his reelection campaign’s set a purported fundraising goal of around $25 million — enough to scare off a number of would-be Democratic challengers. He had more than $8 million in the bank at the end of March, and Brown’s campaign will likely report even more cash on hand when his Federal Election Commission filing is due this month.

Several relatively unknown Democrats have entered the race, including Newton Mayor Setti Warren, state Rep. Tom Conroy and Alan Khazei, the founder of a civic nonprofit. But there’s a sense that the party establishment in Washington might be looking for more of a heavyweight name to go up against Brown. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D) distilled the sentiment last month when he said that none of the declared Democrats in the race would be able to beat Brown.

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