How Scott Brown Changes Our Ideas About NH Politics
What we’ve learned so far
Illustration by Peter Noonan
A year ago this month former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown made a statement that didn’t really say all that much, but it set a framework that meant he would eventually became the most important person in New Hampshire politics. That was no small feat given that for all of 2013 he wasn’t even a resident.
Informally talking to reporters after an event in Nashua last April, Brown said that he wouldn’t rule out moving to the Granite State and running against incumbent US Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, in 2014. His comment came before other big Republicans — already residents of the state — had decided whether or not they would challenge Shaheen. But nearly every month that passed another one of the local big-name Republicans took a pass.
By the beginning of 2014 Republicans were left with Brown and a number of other candidates who just didn’t seem to have a chance.
It is possible that by the time this column is published, Brown will have made a decision to run for the Senate or to drop the idea. Either way, he has already taught us a lot. In short, he taught us that nearly everything we believed about NH politics is wrong. *Editor's Note: As of March 14, Brown launched an exploratory committee to seek the Republican nomination for US Senate in New Hampshire.
1. Hitting the campaign trail “early and often” really doesn’t matter.
Brown did make a number of visits to local events in 2013, but it was not as early and it certainly wasn’t as often as his other Republican opponents. The result: Brown was still the front-runner. By the turn of the year Brown had only been scheduled to speak at one Republican event.
2. New Hampshire roots don’t matter.
In recent elections, from mayor to governor, we have seen candidates talk up their native New Hampshire status. One campaign phrase read, “Keep New Hampshire, New Hampshire.” Brown has exposed the truth that there are few places in America where native lineage matters less. Not only are 60 percent of the state’s residents from somewhere else, New Hampshire is second only to Maryland in the percentage of residents who commute to a different state for work.
Yes, if Brown ran he would have to contend with the “carpetbagger” label. But in the Republican primary, Brown isn’t the only one who’s just moved here. Former US Sen. Bob Smith just returned from Florida to run for this seat. In fact, none of the major candidates for Senate were born in the state, and that includes Shaheen.
3. New Hampshire is such a swing state that every contest is up for grabs.
The truth is, once you win a US Senate race in New Hampshire it is really hard to lose. That’s why a number of major Republicans are sitting this race out. In 1992, Republican Judd Gregg squeaked out a win to the Senate and then when it came to his re-election six years later it was a blow-out. If Brown is not in this race, Shaheen could have the same reality.
We have a perception in this state that all statewide races are competitive, but statistically that just has not been true.
And that’s why the prospect of a wild card like Brown getting into the race is such a thrill to Granite State pundits.