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It may sound counter-intuitive in a state like Massachusetts, but Scott Brown's only hope of winning the U.S. Senate race may be to call even more attention to his status as the Republican candidate.
"Scott Brown needs voters to root for him as the underdog," said Republican Todd Domke. "He's running the only campaign he can," said Democrat Dan Payne. The two political analysts sat down in WBUR's Studio 3 to discuss the latest in the Senate race with two weeks until the special election.
Brown's challenge, Domke said, is to convince voters that his main rival, Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley, is the "overdog" — "a frontrunner who is smug, assuming she'll be elected as a Democrat in a one-party state."
But Payne said there's just no hope for Brown's brand of Republicanism in this state. "He's not the kind of Republican who gets elected in Massachusetts," he said.
"The people who have succeeded in winning office as Republicans have been much more moderate than he is — he's a national Republican," Payne explained. "He has more in common with Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch than he does with Bill Weld or Charlie Baker. He's got to be true to who he is, and in doing so it puts him in some jeopardy because his ideology is pretty far right."
The contest was largely quiet during the holiday season, but Brown remained active. He spoke out against Coakley's relative silence, saying the attorney general "thinks she's already won and is measuring for the drapes in her new office."
Todd Domke said Brown is hoping to pressure Coakley into granting him a one-on-one debate.
"She's continued her Democratic-primary strategy of a low profile, minimizing debate and avoiding controversial issues — basically keeping things dull," Domke said. "Scott Brown has to run a challenger campaign and draw contrast with her."
Coakley has responded to Brown's criticism by saying that her opponent appears to be more interested in her campaign than in his own. "I'm taking nothing for granted in this race," Coakley said recently. "I've been working very hard since September, talking to voters all over the commonwealth about the issues that matter."
Dan Payne said that kind of talk shows Coakley isn't letting her guard down, "even though Massachusetts has zero Republicans in the congressional delegation."
"Only five of 40 state senators are Republican, including Scott Brown, and only 16 of 160 state reps are Republican," Payne went on. "So if you're a Democrat and you come out of a primary in good shape — as she does — there's a good chance that all you have to do is breathe in order to win this thing."
Domke noted that Brown doesn't have the luxury of playing it safe — just the opposite. "He's got to open minds," Domke said. "He's got to be more imaginative with his tactics because he needs to get more attention."
"He needs to use humor more," Domke added. "It's good that he's so serious about the issues, but he needs to be the happy warrior. He needs to create a video, for example, for conservative voters to get out the vote. He needs to be daring."
Some political watchers might point to Brown's first television commercial as an example of such dare. The spot begins with old footage of President John F. Kennedy calling for lower taxes, then moves to Brown as he himself urges lower taxes.
Payne believes some voters are likely to be offended, or at least amused, by Brown drawing connections between himself and the late Democratic president.
"Brown used to talk about the life lessons that he learned from John F. Kennedy Jr. and Princess Diana. But now he claims to be President John F. Kennedy, incarnate," Payne said. "I think it's kind of goofy, he's taking one thing JFK called for."
But Domke thinks the ad is effective. "Scott Brown has every right to advertise that he is saying the same thing that John Kennedy once said and argued: for tax cuts to stimulate job creation," Domke said. "Democrats have no copyright on his words or image."
Invoking the image of Kennedy to fill another Kennedy's seat is a good strategical move for the Republican party, Domke said.
"I think in a sense they want a new generation of leaders — just as the Democrats had hoped that Barack Obama would be a new JFK," Domke said. "We need a new generation of Republican leadership ... in part to create a new image for Massachusetts that we're not just a bastion of predictable liberalism."
Click “Listen Now” to hear Dan Payne and Todd Domke on Morning Edition.
This program aired on January 4, 2010.
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