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?
It’s the day after the press conference at the park, and Brown and his wife, Gail Huff, pull up to the Plymouth Maritime Day festival in his trademark green 2005 GMC pickup. Brown, who is wearing khaki slacks and a Boston College polo shirt (it’s a steamy July afternoon, so the barn coat was left at home), stops at the entrance to the festival and treats his staff (and me) to Italian ices. Then he and Huff begin a slow loop of the vendors, pausing every few feet to shake hands and pose for photos. The senator seems to prefer small events like this, where he can walk and talk among the people, rather than traditional rah-rah rallies.
After circulating for about an hour—trailed the whole time by that fixture of modern campaigning, an opposition staffer with a video camera who’s waiting to capture any slip-up—the couple begins to head toward the exit. On the way out, Huff asks her husband to buy her a gift for their 26th wedding anniversary, which they celebrated two days earlier. As the moment demonstrates, Huff has become a valuable asset for her husband on both the trail and in television commercials. In 2010, her reporting job with Channel 5 prevented her from campaigning with Brown—the station was covering his run, after all—but now she’s working for a station in Washington and is free to assist in Brown’s reelection campaign.
The couple met in 1985, not long after Brown had graduated from Boston College Law School. For Brown, just making it to BC Law was quite an accomplishment, given his troubled youth. He revealed in his 2011 memoir, Against All Odds, that as a boy he’d suffered through a succession of homes and abusive stepfathers, and had fended off two attempted sexual molestations. His fortunes began to turn while he was at Wakefield High School, where his skills on the basketball court led to a scholarship to Tufts. From there, it was off to law school.
After Brown and Huff married, Brown juggled his family, service in the National Guard, and a law career focused on real estate. He also helped out with the household duties so Gail could work the 3 a.m.-to-10 a.m. shift at the TV station. The couple settled in Wrentham, and Brown began a modest political career that quickly picked up speed. After being elected town assessor and selectman, he won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1998 and then, in a 2004 special election, in the state Senate.
When Ted Kennedy died in 2009, and former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey and former George W. Bush chief of staff Andrew Card decided not to run for the Republican nomination for his seat, Brown stepped in. No one expected him to win, including, according to his memoir, his wife and his team of advisers, among them the longtime Mitt Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom. Everyone saw the Senate run as a way for Brown to position himself for a more realistic office, like lieutenant governor or attorney general. Brown, of course, won anyway, thanks in large part to his genial, Everyman appeal, the terrible campaign run by his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, and his promise to serve as the deciding vote in upholding a filibuster against the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Brown never got to make that vote, however. Two months after he was sworn in, Democrats found a way to pass the act using rules that weren’t subject to filibuster.
Despite his campaign-trail pledge to help torpedo Obamacare, Brown attempted to take advantage of one of the provisions in the law by adding his daughter Ayla to his health insurance in 2010—only to discover that the measure hadn’t yet been instituted. Still, Brown remains a staunch opponent of Obamacare. The day after the Supreme Court upheld the law in June, he published an editorial in the Globe tearing into it. The fact that he voted in 2006 for the very similar Massachusetts plan Romney championed while governor has never caused Brown nearly the grief it has Romney.