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Scott Brown’s New Hampshire Gamble

Republicans around the country have been heartened by David Jolly’s defeat of Democrat Alex Sink in Tuesday’s special election and what it could portend for the upcoming congressional midterms. But perhaps no one was more delighted by the result than Scott Brown. As CBS reported yesterday, the former Massachusetts senator is staffing up for a campaign and spreading the word that he’s ready to run for Senate from New Hampshire.

Some of that took place before Jolly’s win over Sink, and indeed it was clear for months that Brown was seriously considering challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in November. But that activity increased in the wake of Tuesday’s election and Brown is expected to announce that he’s forming an exploratory committee today. The exploratory committee is a first step, and it’s not too much of a surprise. As CBS noted, some were taken aback he was only going that far while giving the impression he has made up his mind:

Some of Brown’s former colleagues were surprised that he decided to form an exploratory committee, instead of just announcing that he is running after all these months of playing coy, Cordes reports. He has signaled that he wants to go on a listening tour of sorts in New Hampshire, the way Hillary Clinton did when she ran for Senate in New York in 2000 to try to shed the carpetbagger label.

Brown spent much of the past two weeks calling key New Hampshire Republican officials and influential GOP activists, saying he was going to run and seeking their support. At the same time, Brown’s camp has quietly begun offering paid positions to Republican operatives for a prospective New Hampshire campaign.

Several people involved in the discussions told the Associated Press that some in the GOP establishment remain skeptical given the former Republican senator’s recent track record. The 54-year-old Brown angered Massachusetts Republicans last year after indicating he would run in the state’s special U.S. Senate election, only to change his mind late in the process.

Brown has good reason to leave himself room to back out. No matter how good a year it seems to be for Republican congressional candidates, Brown is taking more of a risk running for this particular seat than most GOP candidates this year. Brown had his pick of recent and future elections in which to attempt to make his return to elected office after losing to Elizabeth Warren in 2012. He could have jumped into the special election to fill John Kerry’s seat after he was nominated to be secretary of state, but that would have necessitated not only another (expensive) election right after his loss but a second soon after that to defend the seat for a full term.

Brown was well aware of the pitfalls of such an effort; after all, he won the seat originally in a special election but then lost it on a regular election year (and when President Obama was on the ballot). The national GOP would have loved to have him in Congress, but he had a better shot at winning the upcoming Massachusetts governor’s race, which some analysts thought he’d run in. The state more readily elects Republicans as governor than as senator, and Brown left office with high approval ratings. A term as governor would also have helped any national aspirations he had. In the end, he passed on that race too.

That left the possibility he’d run in New Hampshire, where he owns a home. The challenge here is that he’d risk getting tagged as a “carpetbagger” for switching states. Such a tag rarely holds politicians back, especially in the Northeast (New York’s junior Senate seat almost seemed to be reserved for out-of-state Democrats when the possibility arose that Hillary Clinton could be succeeded by Caroline Kennedy). But in a close race, every vote counts.

More importantly for Brown, running for Senate from New Hampshire likely leaves him without a fallback option. Had he stayed in Massachusetts and lost another election there, he’d almost surely still have a future anyway, or at least one more run for office before state Republicans thought he’d pass his sell-by date. But he probably cannot run and lose multiple times in New Hampshire, which will be less tolerant of a candidate from another state. And it’s doubtful he can return to statewide elections in Massachusetts after spurning the party and passing up two important elections there to run in New Hampshire instead.

But that also tells you just how encouraged Brown was by this year’s political trends. The test for Brown in New Hampshire was always going to be whether there was a national issue that would take precedence among voters over a local issue they might not trust him with. ObamaCare appears to be that national issue, and its potency was displayed in Sink’s defeat. (She wasn’t even in Congress to vote for ObamaCare and it still held her down.) It’s also an issue Brown knows well, having successfully campaigned on it once before.

If Scott Brown goes all-in this round, he wants to be sure to have a strong hand to play. Thus Sink’s defeat on Tuesday may not only be evidence of a tough year for Democratic candidates, but a strong one for Republican candidate recruitment.

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