Scott Brown is back doing what he seems to like best: campaigning.
Just in another state this time.
He’s obviously hungry to recapture the political fairy tale he briefly lived. From 2010 to 2012, Brown enjoyed a dizzying twirl in the limelight. He was considered a rising Republican star, someone with a dazzling national future ahead.
And then the campaign clock struck midnight, his political carriage turned into a pumpkin, and he was reduced to the sad status of just another defeated Republican offering his, um, insights on Fox News.
Now Brown is hoping the slipper will fit in New Hampshire and restore the magic. It’s not a complete pipe dream. The Republican primary field certainly lacks his star power and name recognition. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who holds the seat Brown covets, is a cautious, plodding pol who doesn’t have a particularly firm hold on the seat.
And yet, don’t overestimate Scott Brown. Or underestimate New Hampshire.
Mind you, I don’t buy the notion that the Granite State will recoil at the idea of electing a former Massachusetts resident. New Hampshire has a mind and sensibility of its own, but it’s not a provincial place. As anyone who regularly spends time covering presidential primary politics there will tell you, it has one of the most sophisticated electorates anywhere.
And that could be Brown’s biggest problem. He won his U.S. Senate seat here in a low-attention race that Brown himself had entered not expecting to win; he initially considered his Senate run a way to boost his name recognition for a subsequent run at a state post.
Brown ran that first Senate campaign on simple themes: His opposition to Obamacare, his desire to cut government spending, his supposedly independent thinking, the everyday-guy symbolism of his pickup truck. In a low profile race against a lackluster opponent, that was enough. Lightning struck and made him a star.
A shooting star, that is. As a state legislator, Brown had never really dug in on public policy. As a U.S. senator, he seemed leagues over his head. Still, early on, he held a healthy re-election lead over a field of second- and third-string Democratic challengers.
Then Elizabeth Warren decided to run.
Faced with a smart, able, charismatic opponent, Brown proceeded to run a mind-numbingly dumb campaign. He and his team pounded away on Warren’s disputed claim of Native American heritage long after that issue had influenced every voter who cared. He talked to Warren in a borderline patronizing way that rallied his base but turned off other voters.
When it came to the issues of the day, Brown took refuge in shallow simplicities and threadbare talking points.
His principal positive pitch was the notion of himself as an independent-minded broker delving into Washington’s policy debates in search of bipartisan compromises that worked for Massachusetts and the nation. Problem: Brown didn’t seem well enough versed on public policy to carry that message in a persuasive way.
And that’s where New Hampshire voters come in. They follow public affairs. They understand the underlying policy truths, trade-offs, tensions, and tugs-of-war that evasive pols try to blather over or tiptoe around. They ask tough questions. It’s all part of their primary heritage.
The New Hampshire media, which is accustomed to querying well-known national figures, is also persistent and probing. And that too will likely prove a problem for Brown. Perhaps because he’s never gone deep on policy, Brown is skittish around reporters. What’s more, he’s so thin-skinned that he can’t take a tough story (or column) in stride. Instead, he gets resentful and tetchy — and as is often the case with a candidate, his personal style sets the tone for his operation. That, at least, is what happened when he was a senator and candidate in Massachusetts.
Now, it’s possible that Brown will dig in and reinvent himself, that he’ll become a candidate who offers something more persuasive than an exaggerated sense of himself and an end-it-don’t-mend-it attack on Obamacare.
But having watched him here, I wouldn’t bet on it.
After all, it’s much easier for a candidate to change his state of residence than it is to change his state of mind.
Scot Lehigh is a columnist for The Boston Globe.MORE IN Perspective
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