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Brown stokes New Hampshire Senate speculation

The former Massachusetts senator will headline the New Hampshire GOP's holiday reception--his latest move in a flirtation with challenging Jeanne Shaheen.
Scott Brown
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) attends the final day of the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30, 2012 in Tampa, Fl.

updated 11:30 p.m.

Scott Brown keeps fanning the political flames that he’s gearing up for a Senate bid -- in New Hampshire.

The former Massachusetts senator will headline the New Hampshire Republican State Committee’s holiday reception on Dec. 19, and it’s just the latest move in Brown’s continued flirtation with challenging Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Still, it’s Brown’s boldest signal yet that he’s serious about a political future in the Granite State. Many national Republicans have been urging him to take on Shaheen, hoping to land the former senator along with the political attention and fundraising prowess he would bring with him if he was to run. Republicans say they don’t expect an official decision from Brown until early next year.  

What seemed once like a fantasy though seems to be inching closer to a reality. After losing re-election last year to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, he sold his home in the Bay State but has maintained a vacation home in New Hampshire for years. Last week, he changed his Twitter handle from @ScottBrownMA to simply @SenScottBrown. And his political action committee gave $10,000 to the New Hampshire GOP last month.

Now, even New Hampshire Republicans who were once doubtful he’d actually pull the trigger in the neighboring state are rethinking their predictions with his December fundraiser for the state party, his highest profile appearance there yet.

“I’ve been a Scott Brown skeptic for most of the year, but the events of today started me thinking that maybe he is getting serious about this,” former state party chairman Fergus Cullen told msnbc.

While Cullen noted that Brown’s been involved on the local level, helping mayoral candidates and fundraising for congressional hopefuls, this appearance is on a much larger scale that will attract both statewide and national attention.

“This news that he’s going to be headlining a holiday reception for the state Republican Party -- that’s the single biggest, best event that he’ll have done all year, and I do think that says something,” said Cullen.

It wasn’t just Brown’s latest addition to his Christmas calendar that stoked further speculation he was gearing up for a New Hampshire Senate run, but also the Fox News contributor’s op-ed on their website. In an article that slams the Obama administration’s rocky implementation of the Affordable Care Act, he took particular note of how it was impacting the Granite State.

“For example, in New Hampshire, only 16 of the state’s 26 hospitals are available on the federal exchange, meaning patients must either pay more to keep their current doctor or seek inferior care elsewhere,” Brown wrote.

In January 2010, the-then Massachusetts state senator won a 2010 special Senate election to succeed the late Ted Kennedy. One of his rallying cries then was that he would be a vote to block the proposed healthcare bill. Amid a growing GOP wave against the bill -- and helped by the many mistakes of his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley -- Brown pulled off the upset.

Now, with Republicans smelling political opportunity again in next year’s midterms against the law now in effect, many think it’s added ammunition for Brown to get back into the political game, even though he passed on running in another special Senate election to succeed now-Secretary of State John Kerry and also declined to run for Massachusetts governor.

Brown’s New Hampshire moves on Tuesday also come just as one name familiar in the Granite State announced he was in. Former Sen. Bob Smith says he wants his old seat back after losing in the 2002 GOP primary after he briefly left the GOP in 2000 for a quixotic presidential campaign as a third-party candidate. Those sins, along with endorsing Kerry for president in 2004 and two brief tries for Senate in Florida, won’t endear him kindly to voters once he moves back to the state.

“He burned a lot of bridges in his last campaign in New Hampshire. I don’t think those relationships can be repaired, but he will have an audience,” said Cullen, who noted Smith’s social conservatism would appeal to some primary voters, but didn’t think it would be enough to beat Brown if he ran. Former state Sen. Jim Rubens and conservative activist Karen Testerman are also seeking the GOP nomination.

Democrats, and even his GOP challengers, are sure to paint Brown as a carpetbagger if he does get in, but his GOP supporters say the don’t think the charges will stick. Much of New Hampshire is in the Boston media market, so voters are very familiar with Brown.

On top of those hurdles, many Democrats remain unconvinced that Brown will gamble on an uncertain run in New Hampshire, calling his visits there and in Iowa earlier this year attempts to stay in the spotlight, and maybe even position himself for a 2016 presidential bid or as a viable VP option.

And while Brown was able to pull the 2010 upset against a weak Coakley, Democrats say  Shaheen would be a much more formidable foe, more in the mold of Warren.

“He can’t win a Senate race and he knows it,” said longtime Massachusetts Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. “This is a three year plan versus a one year plan where he runs for the seat again and loses. It’s not like when he changed his Twitter name he changed it to @ScottBrownNH.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this story said Brown's wife had told colleagues he was planning to run. The Browns deny having said that.