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Payne & Domke: So Far, Brown's Vote Less Crucial Than His Influence06:10
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Sen. Scott Brown (AP)
Sen. Scott Brown (AP)

Friday marks the 100th day in office for Republican Sen. Scott Brown.

While three-plus months is not enough time to cement a legislative legacy, Brown's first 100 days have begun to give us a picture of what kind of senator he is and will be.

WBUR’s political analysts — Republican Todd Domke and Democrat Dan Payne-- parse the junior senator's record so far.


Todd Domke (R): Sen. Scott Brown has not been the pivotal 41st vote blocking a Democratic supermajority on a bill yet. He’s no longer referred to as “41,” but he is No. 1 in popularity. I don’t think there’s another senator who is as popular.

On health care reform, Brown passed the law of unintended consequences. His election was partly a referendum on the bill, yet when he won, President Obama turned around and said, “Let’s hold an all-day televised seminar with Republicans — and then push it through with a simple majority. And when Republicans object, we’ll just say the model is Mitt Romney’s state law, which Brown supported.” So, the biggest loser on the health care bill was not Brown — he couldn’t have done anything — but Romney. Republicans don’t like the idea that ObamaCare is based on RomneyCare.

Brown has not been obstructionist. He voted with the Democrats on the $15 billion jobs bill. Rep. Barney Frank was quoted in The Boston Globe saying, “I think he wants to get along. He does not plan to be an ideological crusader.” It’s too early to say how independent Brown will be because a few major issues will shape that perception over time. But so far there’s no reason to think he’s not going to vote the way he promised — conservative on fiscal issues, homeland security and defense, moderate on social issues and sometimes willing to break with his party to prevent a filibuster.

"Challengers are drawing lessons from his campaign that will change the political battlefield. They are raising more money, attracting more volunteers and being more aggressive. So Brown has great influence, but not yet in the Senate."-- Political analyst Todd Domke (R)

Time Magazine named Brown in its list of “the 100 people who most affect our world.” His influence comes from being seen as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” But instead of Jimmy Stewart playing Mr. Smith, he’s more like George Clooney. He’s the gutsy man but he also has a glam side. But his real clout comes from his historic victory — he inspired challenger candidates all over the country. He personifies not just the anti-incumbent mood, but the idea that anyone can win: You don’t have to be famous or have great wealth — you can “beat City Hall.” Challengers are drawing lessons from his campaign that will change the political battlefield. They are raising more money, attracting more volunteers and being more aggressive. So Brown has great influence, but not yet in the Senate.

Not too many freshman senators go on network talk shows in the early weeks. Brown is a political celebrity. Sen. John McCain called Washington, D.C. “Hollywood for ugly people.” But Brown is certainly an exception. People in Washington like him. He’s very affable. And his glamour is going to be used by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to help candidates around the country.

Other senators have got to be jealous of his popularity, especially the senior senator from Massachusetts. Sen. John Kerry is still the “other senator” — the one nobody talks about. He is still the junior senator in terms of reputation.

I don’t see any Democrat in the Congressional delegation maneuvering to be the nominee against him. Remember how quickly Attorney General Martha Coakley announced her candidacy when she wanted to discourage others from running? Right now, politicians don’t want to be compared with Brown. They know he’s riding a wave of popularity. They’ll wait and see how he holds up.

Some of Brown’s folk hero status will last as long as he lives for having pulled off one of the biggest upset victories in history. But celebrity status — being famous for being famous — tends to fade. In our culture, you can’t stay a hot commodity unless you come up with a new act and reinvent yourself. But a big part of Brown’s appeal is being authentic, not a typical politician. I think he’d rather be thought of as more genuine than glamorous. That is better for winning re-election.


Dan Payne (D): When I got my Time Magazine and saw that Sen. Scott Brown was named the 43rd most influential American, I had to check and make sure I wasn’t reading People Magazine.

I know he doesn’t like to call it "the Kennedy seat" but if he had won a seat in, say, Indiana, where Sen. Evan Bayh is leaving, he wouldn’t have been in a Saturday Night Live skit or followed around the Capitol like he had something important to say. He got famous for winning the Kennedy seat.

Ironically, Brown’s election lit a fire under Democrats in the House and Senate on health care reform. They realized they couldn’t wait for a Republican senator to change his or her mind, so the House passed the Senate bill and, in a matter of weeks, we had a new law. This was thanks to Brown’s election. His winning made the reform Kennedy fought for his entire life the law of the land.

"We may get a clue as to how independent Brown's willing to be when the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court comes before the Senate."-- Political analyst Dan Payne (D)

Brown promised he’d be No. 41 and join his Republican colleagues to filibuster the financial reform bill now in the Senate. On CBS' "Face The Nation," he showed that he doesn’t even know what’s in financial reform bills — but he’s opposed to them.

He will be No. 41 when it’s convenient and, when it’s not, he will step outside the position of his Republican colleagues.

We may get a clue as to how independent Brown's willing to be when the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court comes before the Senate. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, may give Brown a pass and let him vote for her because she’s from his home state. But if the Republicans demonize her and this becomes a big deal — a national vote — Brown will be in a tough spot, deciding whether to vote against her or do what his state would want.

Looking ahead, his biggest challenge over the next two years is getting re-elected. He will face an opponent, a serious opponent. And we will learn things that didn’t come out when he ran against Coakley — like the fact that he owns five houses. His voting record will be pored over. Regardless of who runs against him, it will be a national race.

This program aired on May 12, 2010.

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