Scott Brown’s Potentially Silly Adventure

by Stuart Rothenberg April 12, 2013 · 9:40 AM EDT

Last week, I wrote a short item about reports that former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott P. Brown was not ruling out a run for the Senate in 2014 — in New Hampshire.

I argued that the idea was a bad one and that running in the Granite State after passing on the 2013 Senate special election in Massachusetts would make Brown look like a carpetbagger who was “seat-shopping.”

Not long after my post, National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Brad Dayspring shot back, not by answering my points but by tweeting about a column I wrote in this space in the summer of 1999, about Hillary Rodham Clinton and carpetbagging.

The column examined a number of races in which carpetbagging or residency was an issue, including Jay Rockefeller’s 1972 West Virginia run for governor, Oregon Rep. Al Ullman’s 1980 re-election bid, John McCain’s 1982 Arizona House race and Robert F. Kennedy’s 1964 New York Senate run.

I noted that sometimes a carpetbagging charge was enough to destroy a candidacy (e.g., Rockefeller’s and Ullman’s) and sometimes it wasn’t (e.g., McCain’s and Kennedy’s). But it was almost always a significant problem for a candidate with weak ties to a state.

Dayspring tweeted only part of the very last sentence from that 14-year-old column: “Anyone who dismisses the impact of the carpetbagging issue in New York probably is offering more spin than insight.” His point, apparently, was to discredit my criticism of a Brown bid in New Hampshire and of carpetbagging as an issue by attempting to discredit me, because Clinton won her race.

What Dayspring didn’t cite was the paragraph immediately before the sentence he tweeted: “Let me repeat this so every reader is clear about my position: The fact that Clinton is moving into the state just to run for office does not mean that she won’t be elected to the Senate from New York in 2000. That depends on the makeup of the rest of the field, the presidential race, Congress’ behavior over the next year and a half, and the campaigns that the Senate candidates run.”

As it turned out, the expected GOP nominee against Clinton in that election, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, dropped out of the contest for medical and personal reasons, and Rep. Rick A. Lazio jumped in late. Lazio’s campaign had plenty of problems, and Clinton won with an underwhelming 55 percent of the vote in the reliably Democratic state.

Of course, Dayspring didn’t care to present my comments in context. He is a Republican propagandist with a reputation for promoting his agenda at all costs and for trashing his adversaries. He enjoys verbal combat and acts as if every battle is a nuclear war. He is often called “controversial,” but that doesn’t come close to characterizing his reputation, even among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But for those who are interested more in history, dispassionate analysis and all the facts than in half-truths and partisan talking points, Clinton’s victory in 2000 and the other examples I mentioned in that 1999 column don’t offer much reason for Republican optimism about a Brown candidacy in New Hampshire.

Unlike Clinton and the other examples in my 1999 column, Brown has already represented a state in the U.S. Senate. He has run two different statewide races in Massachusetts, including a series of TV ads showing him driving around the state and identifying with problems in all parts of the commonwealth.

If Brown becomes the GOP nominee, Democratic opposition researchers will have a field day combing through hours of videotape and pages of transcripts and newspaper copy looking for his past statements about Massachusetts, the state’s voters and his candidacy.

Clinton had lived in Illinois, Arkansas and the nation’s capital, but she had never served in office. She had never run anywhere, and she didn’t have a strong personal identification with any state.

And Clinton had the benefit of the Robert F. Kennedy precedent. He parachuted into the state and was elected to the Senate (in 1964, one of the worst years imaginable for a Republican), thereby erasing the sheer novelty of her candidacy for New Yorkers.

The fact that Brown has a house in New Hampshire and, apparently, has paid taxes in the state certainly gives him an argument to make. It just isn’t a great one, since he probably doesn’t want to get into a lengthy discussion about where he votes, where his vehicle is registered and plenty of other residency questions.

Some have pointed out that a handful of men were elected to Congress from more than one state. In fact, only two have been elected to the Senate from different states: James Shields between 1849 and 1879 and Waitman Thomas Willey between 1861 and 1871 — in each case decades before the direct election of senators.

Could Brown win? History says he probably can’t, but I can imagine long-shot scenarios where he might (assuming that he could win his party’s nomination), including a huge national Republican wave like the one in 2010 or possibly even a horrible, mistake-filled campaign by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Of course, under those circumstances, plenty of other potential GOP nominees could beat Shaheen.

I’m skeptical that anyone should take Brown’s refusal to rule out a race in the Granite State all that seriously. “I haven’t ruled it out” isn’t much of a commitment, and one veteran New Hampshire Republican I talked with reflected the general sentiment when he put the chances of Brown being the GOP nominee in 2014 at “about 1 percent.”