Commentary Magazine


The End of the Scott Brown Senate Saga

When then-State Senator Scott Brown decided to run for United States Senate from Massachusetts in 2010, he knew he would be a long shot. He also knew that if he won the seat, which he did, he would have to run another statewide election two years later to keep his seat. What he did not expect to have to do was run four statewide Senate elections in five years in order to serve in the Senate for a full term. And that is exactly what he would have had to do had he decided to run for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Instead, Brown opted against throwing his hat in the ring, leaving local and national Republicans disappointed. But it’s easy to understand the decision. Not only would Brown have to win a special election this year, but the seat is up in 2014, which means he’d have to run another election next year. One Senate election is exhausting. Two in three years is even more so. The prospect of running four Senate elections in five years, three of them in a row, was nothing less than daunting. This would be the case for any election, but in Brown’s case he was up against the odds of winning as a Republican in deep-blue Massachusetts. He also had a fairly attractive fallback option: run for governor of Massachusetts in 2014.

This could not have been an easy decision for Brown, who was suddenly catapulted to national fame by coming out of nowhere to win Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat after the late liberal lion passed away. He retained high approval numbers in office, and though he was a moderate, Massachusetts Republican, the national party–and even conservatives–could always console themselves with the thought of a GOP struggling nationally yet holding a seat in Massachusetts. It was a bright spot for the party and a constant reminder that the party could win virtually anywhere with the right candidate (and a bit of luck), and Brown joined Chris Christie in New Jersey and Bob McDonnell in Virginia as politicians whose mid-term and off-year victories stood as symbols of popular pushback against Obama administration excesses, most of all the unpopular Obamacare.

Brown also helped the GOP balance its sometimes-harsh national image. Thanks to our 24/7 digital media age, even statewide elections are now nationalized (which is part of what helped Brown’s liberal opponent defeat him in November). Thus, candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock didn’t only doom their own chances for election, but they contributed to the image of a clumsy and cold GOP. That may be an unfair brush with which to paint the Republican Party, but it’s a predictable by-product of the messaging struggles that haunted the party in a disappointing election cycle. Brown was not susceptible to the same attacks, and thus helped to disrupt the Democrats’ dishonest portrait of the GOP.

Brown hasn’t made any announcement on whether he’ll run for governor, but that was always looking like a more winnable race anyway–and it’s a race he’d only have to win once to serve a full term. While Massachusetts rarely elects Republican senators, current Governor Deval Patrick is the state’s first Democratic governor since Michael Dukakis left office in 1991. Since Brown left the Senate with an approval rating near 60 percent, he would probably be a formidable gubernatorial candidate. Massachusetts voters could also vote for him guilt-free–electing Brown as governor would do no damage to the Democratic Party’s hold on the U.S. Senate. (Perhaps they’ll even be inclined to reward Brown for not putting them through two more close Senate elections as well.)

Brown might also run against Martha Coakley for governor, which would allow him to face an opponent he has already defeated in an election in more favorable conditions than the first time they ran against each other. It could also raise Brown’s national profile in ways a Senate seat could not; there’s a reason voters seem to prefer electing governors president. Whether or not Brown actually envisions such a run down the road, experience as governor will pad his resume in ways most political offices cannot.

After Brown announced he was passing on the Senate race, Massachusetts Republicans hoped they could run with Richard Tisei, a state politician who lost a close election for a House seat in November. Tisei, too, will sit out the Senate race, as will former governor Bill Weld (who succeeded Dukakis). State Republicans have reportedly been trying to get both Anne Romney and the Romneys’ eldest son Tagg to consider running for the seat, which has Tagg intrigued enough not to say no. But Romney lost the state in November by 23 points; anything can happen in a special election, but it appears Massachusetts Democrats–and the national party–can breathe a sigh of relief with Brown stepping out of the Senate fray.

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