When out-of-state politicians travel to New Hampshire, talk of presidential ambitions follows. Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown's visit to the Granite State on Thursday set off alarms about a different race. Discussing his political future with reporters, Brown wouldn't rule out running against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in 2014. While Brown's comments inspired a flurry of reports in the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and national media, operatives and party officials from both sides of the aisle mostly agreed on two things: First, a New Hampshire Senate campaign by Brown remains unlikely. Second, the former senator would face significant hurdles in winning the seat.
Democratic reaction to the news ranged from disbelief to mockery. Asked for a comment, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky responded, "Is it possible to quote someone laughing?" A spokesman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party framed the news as a bad sign for his counterparts at the state GOP. "New Hampshire Republicans are clearly in a state of utter panic if they are recruiting failed Massachusetts politicians like Scott Brown," spokesman Harrell Kirstein said.
Republicans acknowledged that a Brown bid seems like a long shot, but they said the idea isn't without merit. Brown, who said Thursday that he owns a house in New Hampshire, is well-known in the state, as the southern part of the state shares a media market with Boston. "Senator Brown has more contacts with New Hampshire than Hillary Clinton did with New York when she ran," New Hampshire-based GOP consultant Jim Merrill said.
Brown also could be a better ideological fit in independent-minded New Hampshire than he was in deep-blue Massachusetts. In his unsuccessful campaign against now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren last year, Brown emphasized his bipartisan credentials and distanced himself from Mitt Romney and the national GOP. "I was the most bipartisan senator in the United States Senate. That's I think what people want," Brown said in New Hampshire on Thursday. "Apparently they don't want it in Massachusetts."
But a comeback bid in New Hampshire would come with considerable obstacles. Opponents immediately would label Brown a carpetbagger and an opportunist: He may own a home in New Hampshire but his entire political career has been in the neighboring Bay State. When Brown was still considering running in the special election to replace John Kerry, now the secretary of State, earlier this year, he tweaked Democratic Rep. Edward Markey by suggesting on a Boston radio show that the longtime congressman doesn't actually live in Massachusetts.
Brown could even face a fight for the Republican nomination in New Hampshire. The moderate image he cultivated while serving in Massachusetts might not sit well with the more conservative wing of the New Hampshire GOP, and a host of other well-known Republicans are looking at the race. In a phone interview on Friday, New Hampshire Republican Party chairwoman Jennifer Horn acknowledged that Brown wouldn't necessarily clear the field. "As Republicans up here, we're accustomed to and we embrace competitive primaries," she said. Horn mentioned former congressman and current state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and former Rep. Frank Guinta as other potential candidates. Former Sen. John Sununu also is rumored to be thinking about running for his old seat.
Brown's actions since leaving office earlier this year could pose another challenge. He works as an on-air analyst for Fox News, a position Democratic opponents will use to paint him as more conservative than he would like voters to believe. He also accepted a position last month with Nixon Peabody. While Brown isn't technically a lobbyist, his work for the firm resides, as the Boston Globe put it, "at the often gray intersection of government affairs and business."
Perhaps the biggest difficulty facing Brown's potential candidacy is his would-be opponent. While a positive national environment for Republicans and a relatively evenly-divided state could make the race competitive, even Republicans say Shaheen will be tough to beat. A WMUR-TV Granite State Poll conducted in February showed the senator with solid numbers heading into her reelection bid: 59 percent of New Hampshire adults said they had a favorable opinion of Shaheen while 22 percent said they had an unfavorable view. The former governor is also battle-tested, having won four previous statewide races.
"If he thought he had a tough time with Elizabeth Warren, wait until he meets Jeanne Shaheen," Massachusetts Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said.