BOSTON — Massachusetts Democrats are setting their sights on U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
To defeat Brown, leaders say who the party is is just as important as who the candidates are.
“What do we believe? What are our core convictions and are we willing to work for them?” Gov. Deval Patrick asked a crowd of 3,000 delegates gathered for the party’s convention at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on Saturday.
Patrick said Democrats turned into “Chicken Little” after the 2010 special election, when Brown defeated Attorney General Martha Coakley. And now, he said it was time to take it back.
“If we want to earn the privilege to lead, it’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe,” he said fervently.
All six candidates focused on Brown’s voting record, which they said did not jive with the values of Massachusetts residents.
“It was a very short campaign last time,” state Rep. Thomas Conroy remarked on Brown’s special election. “He had some good props in terms of the barn jacket and the pickup truck, but ultimately when you look at how approachable and available and accessible he is, I think you’ll find perhaps a different story.”
Conroy said Brown is “eminently beatable” once voters look at his record, which he said follows Republican leadership nearly 90 percent of the time.
“That’s not the kind of moderate the people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts want from their United States senator.”
Newton Mayor Setti Warren is bringing a similar message out on the campaign trail.
“We talk about the fact this country’s at a crossroads and that Scott Brown’s made the wrong decisions for the state, doesn’t represent the values of the state,” he said.
The other candidates — City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, activist Bob Massie, immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco and engineer Herb Robinson — all seemed to agree.
They and delegates such as Alice Arena of Weymouth said they are convinced that if they refocus their message on the core issues — the economy, health care, social services — the entire Massachusetts delegation will return to solid blue next November.
“The Scott Brown effect, sorry, it didn’t last because there really was no effect. I think it was a fluke and there’s a lot of people that really were supporting Scott Brown that they’re staying home this time. They don’t like him.”
But some national Democratic party leaders aren’t happy with the field of candidates so far, and are looking for someone with more experience and name recognition.
“I don’t agree that we need to have someone who has some kind of a national presence. We need someone in Massachusetts who has a Massachusetts presence who is going to fight for the people of Massachusetts,” Arena said. “We need someone that we can say, ‘OK, in 30 years, that person is going to be Ted Kennedy.’ ”
Arena says Democrats have that candidate already.
“But a lot of that is going to depend on the Democratic activists, the Democratic voters to get out there and say Scott Brown is wrong for Massachusetts,” she said.
The key for Ralph Edwards of Swampscott is using similar tactics that propelled Patrick and President Obama forward.
“We are very much a grassroots party, where it’s people on the ground who get out the vote,” he said. “Money makes a difference, but it’s not as big a difference as it is for the Republicans, so we need someone who can inspire us and show us that they can win.”
A lot can happen in the next 17 months. Candidates will have time to ring doorbells and shake hands, but Scott Brown will also cast key votes and make appearances that garner a lot of attention.
While many groups criticize the freshman senator on a number of issues, polls show Brown remains extremely popular with Massachusetts voters.