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On Mass. Trail, Sen. Brown Seeks The Middle

Sen. Scott Brown greets supporter Jo MacDonald of Salem, Mass., right, at Mul's Diner in Boston, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011. (AP)

REVERE, Mass. — Where else but in Massachusetts would a Republican senator, facing a tight election, want to focus on how much he agrees with the Democratic president?

“I’m the second-most bipartisan senator in the United States Senate,” Sen. Scott Brown said last week while meeting with military veterans in Revere. “I vote with my party about 54 percent of the time.”

That’s what a Congressional Quarterly study of Scott Brown’s 2011 votes found. And Brown makes sure to stress his bipartisan record every chance he gets.

Brown told the veterans and their families he found himself agreeing with the president on allowing people to refinance their mortgages if they owe more than what their houses are worth. He also found common ground with the president on making it illegal for members of Congress to trade stocks based on privileged information.

Brown’s campaign manager pointed out that when the president has an opinion on a Senate vote, Brown sides with him 70 percent of the time. Brown understands that this is a winning strategy for a Republican in Massachusetts.

“The fact that you have Sen. [John] Kerry down there and Sen. Brown down there is no different than Sen. Brooke and Sen. Kennedy,” Brown said, referring to former Sen. Ed Brooke, a Republican, and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. “People like that balance. It works.”

“We do have a tradition in this state of liberal or moderate Republicans going back to Ed Brooke,” said Alan Wolfe, a professor of political science at Boston College. “So there is a niche for Scott Brown to occupy.”

Whether it’s by nature or political savvy or both, Brown’s ability to be “Mr. Moderate” in the Senate is working for him. Most polls show him ahead of his likely Democratic rival, Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. The most recent survey from Western New England University finds Brown ahead among independents, among people under 50, among people 65 and over, and in central and western Massachusetts.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, John Walsh, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, conceded that Brown is a tough opponent.

“I expect if the election were held today Scott Brown would win,” Walsh said. “I think this is an election that’s going to be fought and close right down to the end because Scott Brown is a smart politician. You see him strategically slicing thin slices of the electorate, trying to find wedge issues to cobble together a majority win.”

Brown and Warren recently tussled over one wedge issue: whether employers should have the right to withhold health coverage for certain services, such as contraception, if they object for religious or moral reasons.

But Brown is also raising other issues. At the veterans meeting, he talked about his opposition to Pentagon plans to raise premiums for retirees enrolled in Tricare, the health care program for service members.

“Now they’re going to be raising the premiums,” Brown said. “They’re going to be eventually, I think, trying to cut Tricare altogether and morph you into Medicare or some other program.”

Brown’s message is not just that he’s in the middle of the road, he points out that his ability to work across party lines gets things done. He mentioned another bill he cosponsored that has become law that provides employer tax credits if they hire National Guard members.

“I’m not going to be the social crusader like Professor Warren,” Brown said. “I’m going to be the jobs crusader.”

That pragmatism comes through when asked how he views the atmosphere in Congress that has driven his fellow New England moderate Republican, Olympia Snowe, to retire.

“I’ve been disgusted by a lot of what’s been going on, but I’m going to continue to be part of the solution,” Brown said. “I’m a problem solver. I’m not a rock thrower.”

Brown tells the veterans how he got the president to help him with his bill banning insider trading by members of Congress. The State of the Union speech had just ended when Brown approached President Obama.

“So meanwhile that whole row cleared out and, therefore, I actually get to walk up right next to the aisle as the president’s coming up, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Man! He wants an insider trading bill. I have one,’ ” Brown explained. “So I said, ‘Mr. President, my insider trading bill is on Harry Reid’s desk. Tell him to get it out.’ And he looked right at me and he says, ‘I will. I’ll tell him to get it out.’ Problem was he was miked up live with Fox.”

So, Brown says, the president got his bill to the Senate floor, where it passed.

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  • Anonymous

    His voting with the Republicans 54% of the time will be a vote to make Mitch McConnell Majority Leader. 

    If he agrees with Obama 70% of the time, why is he backing self-described “severely conservative” Mitt Romney?

  • gardenia

    Scott Brown is without question a typical Republican who votes the party line.  However, I blame Ms. Coakley for letting him win.  She hardly campaigned.  Was that a gift to him?

    Let’s all vote for Warren!

    • http://www.wbur.org/people/fthys Fred Thys

      gardenia, I think what is surprising is that he does not vote the party line. In fact, in 2011, he voted against his own party 46% of the time, more than any other Republican Senator except for Susan Collins, of Maine. 

      • Anonymous

        Not all of these votes are equally important.  How moderate was his recent vote against employees’ rights to contraceptives? 

        • Anonymous

          “I’m not going to be the social crusader like Professor Warren,” Brown said. “I’m going to be the jobs crusader.” — How does this statement match his vote? 

      • Stephen

        What about 2012?  The Blunt amendment is an example of where he stands now, and your report should have included more of that.

  • Carol

    How long do you think he will remain “Mr. Moderate” if a Republican unseats President Obama? Brown will go where he thinks he self-interest is best served; Warren will go where she’s always gone:  to the side of the consumer.

    • Anonymous

       Agreed. And an analysis of the actual issues at stake when he voted against his party would have been helpful. He opposed the Consumer Protection Bureau (until he got the terms he wanted to benefit the banks) and consistently voted against extending unemployment benefits.

      Sorry, Fred, but when I heard the story this morning, it sounded like Brown campaign ad.

  • Frank

    it is exactly those 54% percentage votes that are killing our country and our state.  Get Broan out asap!  No matter how middle he wants to play, just him being in the Senate makes people like Mitch McConnell more powerful, and he is a man with an agenda to destroy any progress we have made since the end of the Iraq war to the financial melt down to the gross bias to support his big money supporters.  Brown is a double pain to us in Mass.

  • Anonymous

    It is interesting that he only voted with his party 54% of the time – but I’d like to know what happens when his vote will actually make a difference?  My sense is that he only ”
    breaks ranks” when it’s absolutely safe to do so, or when the result was forgone conclusion.

  • gardenia

    Griselda Bean, you hit the nail right on its head.  Scott Brown is pretty shrewd about what’s safe.  I think he will cover his derriere at all costs.  We must get him out, NOW.

  • Rose

    Supporting the Blunt Amendment is not “middle” that’s to the right. He’s got to go.

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