Politics: Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate Win

State Senator Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate win over Attorney General Martha Coakley stunned the nation, derailed Obama’s signature political initiative, and handed state Republicans their first major victory in decades. Here, a behind-the-scenes look at the final days of the historic campaign for Ted Kennedy’s seat.

Scott Brown’s campaign staffers gather in their drab three-story headquarters in Needham. Sitting around a conference table are Eric Fehrnstrom, Peter Flaherty, and Beth Myers of the Shawmut Group, the Boston-based political consultancy firm that advised Mitt Romney during his gubernatorial and presidential runs; campaign manager Beth Lindstrom; Rob Willington, Brown’s social-media and online director; and Peter Fullerton, Brown’s political director. They’re all here to discuss one thing: what to do next.

The NRSC poll has stunned them. A month ago, Brown was down 31 points. Now the poll has him trailing by 13. Among independents, there’s only that 3-point margin. Brown has come this far by working 18-hour days, while his opponent has taken a more laissez-faire (some might say entitled) approach.

We need to move now and capitalize on the NRSC poll, Fehrnstrom tells the group. After discussing the matter, they come to believe that waiting out this supposed dead week will only benefit Coakley. They decide to run the ad.

This isn’t just any political ad Fehrnstrom and the Shawmut Group have in mind. It opens in grainy black and white, with President John F. Kennedy discussing an income tax cut for the nation’s top earners, and then morphs into Scott Brown finishing Kennedy’s thoughts, about how a tax cut will create jobs and improve the economy.

It will be risky comparing Brown, a relatively unknown Republican, to any Democratic idol, especially a Kennedy — even more so in Kennedy country. But Fehrnstrom knows what he’s doing. He’s a former Herald reporter who left journalism to handle media relations for the state treasurer’s office before moving on to the ad agency Hill, Holliday, and then to work for Romney. He understands, perhaps better than anyone, how to convey the essence of a candidacy in a few words or in some fleeting images. “Fehrnstrom is central casting out of Mad Men,” one Democratic operative will later say. Handsome, solidly built, sometimes favoring black-framed glasses that make him look both smart and cool, he “is Don Draper,” the Democrat says. And Fehrnstrom’s title for the JFK-Brown spot epitomizes his -Draperlike talent for concision and clarity: “Different People, Same Message.”

The ad is so novel, Brown soon appears on Fox News with Sean Hannity, and Chris Matthews discusses the spot on MSNBC. On Fox, Brown repeats its theme: His ideas aren’t so different from JFK’s. Brown begins billing himself as a “Scott Brown Republican”: an independent thinker who’ll vote how he, and not the party, sees fit.

Money pours in, which allows the nearly broke Brown campaign to air another ad: Brown in his barn jacket, driving across the state in his GMC, looking directly into the camera and telling viewers he’s just like them.

The truck ad runs into the early days of January, which means, all told, Massachusetts voters will see roughly a week of Brown spots, and not a single paid ad from Coakley.

The imbalance allows Brown to define his candidacy, as silence begins to define Coakley’s.