Scott Brown’s In Trouble And Knows It

Sen. Scott Brown speaks with reporters at Mul's Diner in Boston in 2011. (Josh Reynolds/AP)
Sen. Scott Brown speaks with reporters at Mul's Diner in Boston in 2011. (Josh Reynolds/AP)

As the campaign enters its final week, Sen. Scott Brown appears to be falling behind Elizabeth Warren. The WBUR/MassInc poll, as well as one by Rasmussen Reports, show him trailing by 5 points.

One sign that he and his campaign are lost is that he’s running a TV spot from months ago where he’s in a coffee shop and gets a refill because he’s been so bipartisan. With the final debate set for Tuesday, he faces a quandary.

What Should His Strategy Be?

Attack Warren? Revert to his nice guy image? Or, as The Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh suggested, de-Republicanize himself and run against the system as independent Senate candidate Angus King is doing in Maine. (Full disclosure: King is a client.) He has to pick one and ride it to the end.

Wasted Popularity

One reason Brown’s in trouble is that, other than collecting a cool $700,000 advance for an autobiography, he did little with the huge amount of national recognition he got when he captured “the Kennedy seat” in January 2010. Sure, he cast the crucial vote against the president’s national health reform law, as he had promised, but the law eventually passed. And he failed to use his fame and new fortune to champion any serious issue or bill.

Nothing New

Since beating Martha Coakley, he’s remained essentially as he was before: a slightly goofy, handsome guy who once posed nude in a magazine for women and has a knack for wisecracks and a laid-back attitude. In his autobiography, we learned that he suffered sexual abuse at camp and had to defend his mother against two violent stepfathers. TV shows as different as “60 Minutes” and “Saturday Night Live” devoted time and attention to his remarkable win.

National Vs. Local

He’s known nationally as the Republican who took the Kennedy seat in Democratic Massachusetts, (which is why Elizabeth Warren is raising millions to defeat him). Locally he’s often described as “a good guy” supported by some has-been and small caliber Democratic officeholders. Jeff Berry, a smart Tufts University professor, said Brown may have gone too far in his regular guy persona, making him seem, well, insubstantial.

There When You Don’t Need Them

While he didn’t direct it at Brown, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank once described moderate Republicans as being “there when you don’t need them.” If a bill is either going to win big or lose big, how you vote isn’t that important. Faced with having to vote on whether to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell for homosexuals in the military, Brown dragged his feet, asking for more time and study. After stalling, Brown learned it was going to be repealed with or without his support. He voted for repeal. It passed 65-31, allowing him to appear tolerant when his vote wasn’t needed.

Then & Now

A noticeable difference between this campaign and the one he ran in the special election is that in the first one he was upbeat, relaxed, and had round edges. In this campaign’s debates, he’s been jagged, dismissive, and condescending toward his female opponent, whom he took delight in calling “Professor Warren.”

I’ll Have No Policy, Please

Brown is reverting to form. As a state senator and representative before that, he was known for “his casual style and ability to cross the aisle; he was not seen as a policy wonk, or a firebrand opposition leader in the mold of some of his GOP peers,” the Globe found.

Then-House Minority Leader Bradley Jones told the Globe, “I viewed him as focused on district bills,” he said. “You wouldn’t ever see him on the big policy issues.”

Three Things Working Against Brown

First, the Warren campaign no longer has her speaking in her TV commercials; her voice and manner had been off-putting. Second, Warren has seized on women’s issues, beginning in her last debate and continuing in her “One chance” TV spot. Third, the Warren campaign has finally placed Brown in with the box of GOP nuts running for the Senate, the latest of whom was Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock. He said that when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape, “that’s something God intended.” Where do the Republicans find these guys?

A Campaign About Nothing

The race has been about little of consequence. The issue of Wall Street abuses, which many felt would be at the heart of Warren’s candidacy, has been virtually ignored. Ditto for how to achieve tax fairness, tackle the federal deficit, cut Pentagon spending or deal with Afghanistan and Islamic anti-American terrorism. Instead, we’ve heard about Warren’s Native American heritage and Brown’s blowing smoke five times about secret meetings “each and every day with kings and queens and prime ministers.” I believe one of them was Winston Churchill.

Hiding Behind Gail Huff

Brown’s support from his wife, a former Boston TV reporter, or his incessantly telling us he lives in a house full of women don’t explain why the largest anti-abortion group in the state is backing him. Likewise, a mailer from the National Right to Life Political Action Committee boosting Brown as pro-life arrived in Massachusetts mailboxes last week.

If Brown were truly pro-choice, he would’ve said that the mailing was wrong or sent by mistake or tell voters to ignore it.

Times Have Changed, Brown Hasn't

Back when voters in Massachusetts wanted to send a message to Washington, Brown was a suitable vehicle. A “good guy” in the pickup truck, tooling around the state, shaking hands and trading wisecracks on the streets or docks or sports talk radio. The country has real problems and the state’s voters believe we need more in a senator than good looks and a jump shot.

Dan Payne is WBUR’s Democratic analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.

This program aired on October 29, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Dan Payne

Dan Payne Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.



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