Barack Obama’s second set of midterm elections appear likely to resemble his first: Republican gains—or a Democratic “shellacking,” to use the president’s terminology—fueled in part by a popular backlash against Obamacare.
In 2010, it all started with Scott Brown. The photogenic Massachusetts Republican stunned the political class by winning a special election for the Senate seat once held by the late Ted Kennedy. Brown ran as the 41st vote against Obamacare, then still a theory rather than a reality.
Brown has now all but declared he is running for Senate again in 2014. But the similarities end there. For one thing, Brown’s exploratory committee set up shop in New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts.
In the Bay State, Brown had a 20-year political career in which he won ten elections before losing his bid for a full Senate term to Elizabeth Warren in 2012. In New Hampshire, he’ll have to fight charges he’s a carpetbagger. Indeed, he benefited throughout his Massachusetts political career from a local touch, driving around the state in a pickup truck and appearing more familiar with Boston sports than his 2010 Democratic opponent.
Four years ago, Brown had the element of surprise against a Democratic establishment that didn’t take him very seriously. He was running for an open seat—which he wisely dubbed “the people’s seat”—with no major Democratic powerhouses on the ballot. This time, he faces an incumbent Democrat, Jean Shaheen, who will be ready for him.
Brown initially trailed by as much as 31 points in the 2009 polling, before he began to take the lead in January 2010. He’s not as much of an underdog in his first New Hampshire political foray, but depending on which polls you believe he may not be doing better than he was against Warren before she handed him his first election loss.
The former senator’s RealClearPolitics polling average against Shaheen in New Hampshire is 40.2 percent, giving the Democrat a 7.2-point lead. Brown’s polling average against Warren was 47 percent, trailing the Democrat by just 3 points (he ended up losing by 7.5).
Nevertheless, some pollsters find a Brown versus Shaheen Senate race competitive. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, had Shaheen ahead by just 3 points in January. The bipartisan Purple Strategies had the race tied. But more recent polls, such as one conducted by Suffolk University and the Boston Herald, show Shaheen ahead by 13 points with Brown getting less than 40 percent of the vote.
Perhaps the biggest change concerns the Tea Party. In 2010, Brown was one of the movement’s success stories, despite being a relatively moderate Republican running in a liberal state. New Hampshire is less liberal—though not as staunchly Republican or conservative as it once was—but Brown’s goodwill among Tea Partiers dissipated when he tried to cultivate a down-the-middle image while serving Massachusetts in the Senate.
It is unlikely any major national Tea Party groups will intervene on Brown’s behalf, unless control of the Senate hangs in the balance. The pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-Romneycare former senator is also likely to face GOP primary opponents to his right. One of them, Bob Smith, represented New Hampshire in the Senate for two terms.
In Massachusetts, Brown won independents even against Warren. Can he do the same in the Granite State?
The history of out-of-state political candidacies is decidedly mixed. Robert Kennedy, Jim Buckley, and Hillary Clinton all managed to parachute into New York and win Senate races. Former Tennessee Sen. Bill Brock was soundly defeated in Maryland, while Maryland transplant Alan Keyes failed even more spectacularly in Illinois.
New Hampshire residents are no doubt familiar with Brown’s political success in their neighboring state. They have considerable access to Boston media and many of them are Massachusetts transplants themselves. He’s kept up a high profile on Fox since leaving the Senate. But all this could certainly be a double-edged sword. Brown’s nice-guy image took a hit when he went negative in a rough-and-tumble race against Warren.
For his part, Brown is still running against Obamacare. “If we don’t like Obamacare, we can get rid of it. Period,” Brown told the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua. “A big political wave is about to break in America, and the Obamacare Democrats are on the wrong side of that wave.”
Karl Rove’s American Crossroads is also preparing to give Brown an assist, with a reported $600,000 in negative ads against Shaheen. Brown may lack Tea Party support, but the party establishment will give him a helping hand as long as they think the race is winnable.
Republican Senate candidates are likely to do well in November. Whether we’re due for another “Scott heard ‘round the world” is a separate question.
W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?