Way More Mr. Nice Guy
Scott Brown rode his pickup, barn coat, and genuine likability all the way to the U.S. Senate in 2010. Two years later the charm offensive is back and bigger than ever. But can Brown convince Massachusetts voters to return him to Washington just because he’s a good man?
The moment Scott Brown won the January 2010 special election to succeed Ted Kennedy in the Senate, he had a major problem: He was a Republican in a heavily Democratic state—just 11 percent of Massachusetts voters are Republican. Worse, he owed much of his upset victory to the work of the Tea Party, which was now expecting him to be a reliably conservative voice in Washington. But his prospects for reelection would be tied to convincing Massachusetts independents that he was no radical.
Seen in this light, the fact that polls show Brown and Warren essentially tied right now is pretty good news for the senator, even though that’s usually a dangerous position for an incumbent. Still, this time around, Brown is going to have to win a lot more votes than he did in 2010. Turnout in the special election was low, with just 2.2 million people casting ballots, which meant that Brown’s passionate supporters had an outsize influence on the result (he ended up getting 52 percent of the vote). With a presidential election this November, however, Massachusetts is expecting more than 3 million people to go to the polls, and it looks like a big majority of them will be Obama supporters. The president pulled 62 percent of the vote here in 2008, and he remains popular in the state. Which means that, in order for Brown to be reelected, he’s going to have to persuade a sizable percentage of Obama voters to “split the ticket” and also go with him.
Adding to Brown’s difficulties is the fact that he holds some pretty conservative views—he opposes any tax increases, for instance, and voted to strip the EPA of its power to regulate greenhouse gases—while Warren’s liberal ideas are more closely aligned with the majority of Massachusetts voters.
Marc Landy, a political science professor at Boston College, sums up Brown’s difficult dance this way: “Since he is to the right of the Massachusetts electorate, he must do three things—emphasize that he is a regular guy with good character, emphasize elitist aspects of his opponent, and tread a fine line between maintaining his conservative credentials while still showing himself to be a maverick.”