PORTSMOUTH, NH – Scott Brown officially entered the Senate race in New Hampshire Thursday against Senator Jeanne Shaheen, announcing his run to a group of supporters at a hotel Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Touting himself as “a true independent voice,” Brown cast his lot against what he called “the liberal out-of-touch Obama-Shaheen agenda.”
Brown is betting on dissatisfaction with the White House and especially the Affordable Care Act to win a Republican a seat even in blue New England.
And why not? It’s worked once already.
In 2010, Brown ran hard against health care reform in a special election in Massachusetts to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who had championed the issue for decades. His upset victory over Democrat Martha Coakley almost singlehandedly killed the Affordable Care Act and served as a grim preview of the devastating midterm election awaiting Democrats later that year.
Brown was unable to maintain his success, despite that upstart victory, losing to progressive icon Elizabeth Warren in 2012 in the most expensive Senate race ever fought. After passing up a shot at running again for the open seat created by John Kerry’s move to the State Department, Brown is ditching Massachusetts for neighboring New Hampshire.
It’s rare for candidates to run in multiple states and Brown is trying to shake off the “carpetbagger” label early by stressing his connections to the area. As he noted in his speech, he was born at the nearby Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and has long owned a home in the state.
Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, introducing Brown, offered up his own unique take on the local geography. He called Shaheen “the third Senator from Massachusetts,” a reference to the Bay State’s liberal reputation.
For the first time, he’ll be facing off against an incumbent – and a tough one, too – in Shaheen, a popular former governor of the state. Shaheen has led early polls of the race, some by double-digit margins. The most recent survey, released Thursday by Democratic pollster PPP, put her up 49-41 and showed Brown’s popularity trending downward.
At the same time, the political environment today is more favorable than in his race against Warren: Obama’s no longer at the top of the ticket, the party that holds the White House tends to suffer in sixth-year elections, and Republican-leaning groups tend to turn out more reliably in midterm years. And Brown’s Obamacare-focused playbook looks very much the same as it did in 2010.
“[Shaheen] cast the deciding vote that forced Obamacare on this state and our country,” Brown said Thursday. “A lot of people aren’t aware of that vote to pass Obamacare. But it’s important to know if we are ever going to get past Obamacare and get America moving in the right direction.”
Despite coming up during the tea party revolution, Brown’s politics are somewhat closer to the GOP’s dwindling moderate wing. He was one of only four Republican Senators to vote for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, for example.
“We don’t just follow the crowd wherever it’s going,” he said in his speech. “In government, especially in government, we expect more of ourselves than just to follow a party boss or a party line.”
Brown is popular with donors and Shaheen has challenged him in radio ads to renounce support from outside groups, a pledge he made in his 2012 race. Already third party ads have run in the state attacking Shaheen and Brown told reporters that the “horse has kinda left the barn” when it comes to calling them off. Republicans see Brown’s decision to enter the race as a huge recruiting coup, forcing Democrats to pour resources into a seat that would otherwise most likely be uncompetitive.