Editorial: Scott Brown takes his next Senate campaign north

Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Republican Scott Brown burst onto the national political scene in January 2010 with a stunning win in a special election for the U.S. Senate seat held for 47 years by Democratic icon Edward M. Kennedy. Now with a move north to challenge Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, Brown is attempting to become just the third person to serve more than one state in the U.S. Senate.

Brown was an obscure state senator when he parlayed his everyman’s pitch — he famously drove a pickup truck on the campaign trail — and backing from tea party organizations into a decisive defeat of Attorney General Martha Coakley. Brown served for nearly three years until he was unseated by Elizabeth Warren in 2012. Last year, Brown decided not to run for the other Massachusetts Senate seat in another special election after John Kerry was named secretary of state.

Among other things, Brown was offering political analysis on Fox News — a job that ended earlier this month when he acknowledged establishing an exploratory committee to run for Senate in New Hampshire.

Despite a political career forged in Massachusetts, Brown has ties to New Hampshire. His parents lived at Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth when he was born in 1959 and he spent 1½ years there before moving to Massachusetts with his family. He bought a vacation home on the New Hampshire coast in 1993 and became a registered voter in Rye when he and his wife Gail Huff moved there in December. Since then, Brown has courted GOP officials in the Granite State, begun hiring staff and actively campaigning.

There is precedent, though not recent, for a politician to switch states and represent more than one in the Senate. James Shields was a senator from Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri in the mid-1800s, and Waitman Willey served Virginia before he was elected by West Virginia in 1879.

This year, the stakes are high both for Brown and the Republican Party nationally. After Brown’s win in 2010, he was viewed as a rising Republican star and an eventual run for president was not out of the question. His loss to Warren at least temporarily halted that political trajectory. A second defeat by Shaheen would likely be a mortal political wound for Brown.

But for the time being, Brown is back on the national political stage and has put New Hampshire in play as a battleground state that could help the Republicans take control of the Senate in the midterm elections. Democrats now hold a 54-45 edge and with 36 seats to be decided in November, Republicans need to gain six for a majority of 51. (The seat held by independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont is not on the ballot this year.)

Before Brown emerged, the potential field of Republican challengers to Shaheen was seen as weak and the New Hampshire seat was considered safe for the Democrats. Brown’s name recognition and ability to raise money nationally adds New Hampshire to those states whose contests will decide which party controls the Senate during the final two years of the Obama administration.

Already there are signs that New Hampshire will see a record amount of money spent on advertising for a single campaign in that state, and observers cited by the Boston Globe predict the Senate seat will cost at least $20 million. The Globe reported this week that during the past four months, out-of-state Republican organizations have spent $1.5 million on ads attacking Shaheen, while Democratic groups have spent $350,000 aimed at Brown.

Warren has stepped across the state line, working with her supporters to raise $40,000 for Shaheen one weekend this month and criticizing Brown for failing so far to agree to a so-called “people’s pledge” limiting outside spending. While Brown initiated such an arrangement with Warren in 2012, he has resisted Shaheen’s suggestion for a similar agreement, arguing that “Before I even thought of becoming a candidate, Jeanne Shaheen’s allies in Washington were running negative ads against me for months.”

A spirited campaign is welcome. We hope it is decided on the merits of the ideas put forward by two candidates who have spent time in Washington, D.C., rather than by which one attracts more political muscle in out-of-state spending on attack ads.