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U.S. Senator Scott Brown has emphasized character, bi-partisanship in bid for re-election

By Nicholas P. Fandos, Crimson Staff Writer

His Congressional logbook lists it as an official state visit, but when U.S. Senator Scott Brown arrived at the Elks Lodge in West Roxbury early on a Friday night in January he was just one of the guys.

He shook hands. He had a beer. He cracked a smile again and again, and leaned back as he talked with party goers gathered to welcome home Massachusetts State Senator Mike Rush.

Rush had just completed an eight-month tour of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Navy. A year after leaving Beacon Hill for Capitol Hill, Brown wanted to be on hand to celebrate his fellow servicemen and former State Senate colleague’s homecoming.

Nevermind that Rush was a Democrat or that Election Day was 11 months away, the self-proclaimed People’s Senator was not going to miss it.

“Scott Brown came early and stayed late,” remembers Lawrence S. DiCara ’71, a former Boston City Councillor, who was at the event that night. “He actually enjoys going to those events. A lot of people in politics don’t.”

More than just enjoyment, former politicians and political science professors say, events like these give Brown a platform to exercise what has become a winning political combination: independent politics and relatability.

Brown’s success rising through local, state, and ultimately federal politics in an overwhelming Democratic state has largely hinged on this confluence of personality and politics, they say.

“The sense that many voters have is that he is like them,” said Boston College political science professor Dennis Hale. “Not born rich, not born lucky. He worked hard to make his way in the world and was a success.”

The formula worked for Brown in January 2010 when his barn coat and moderate stances helped the state senator emerge suddenly to upset Democratic Attorney General Martha M. Coakley. Just two short years later, Brown’s success against Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren next Tuesday may well depend on how believable that formula is this time around.

A SENATOR JUST LIKE YOU

When his S.U.V. slowed to a stop in front of Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers in Harvard Square one afternoon in late April, Brown looked as if he could have been any other businessman grabbing a quick bite on his lunch break. He wore a shirt, a tie, and a smile, but no jacket.

“What’ll you have?” someone yelled, after Brown was ushered to a seat at the bar.

The Senator smiled. He ordered a themed burger bearing his name, and talked with the fry cook at the grill in front of him. Between bites, french fry in hand, Brown explained that he had been a Bartley’s regular for years. He said that he discovered the joint and the adjacent Hong Kong Restaurant while an undergraduate at Tufts University in nearby Medford.

Brown has an everyman quality rare in politicians, those familiar with the race say. In advertisements, he often sports a Bruins jersey and focuses on his active home life. On the campaign trail he prefers talking with voters about their lives to answering questions from reporters. Brown has been endorsed by retired athletes like former Celtics star Bob Cousy and women’s advocates like Laurie Myers.

“[To voters,] he is like the boy next door, like the guy I could have a beer with—the guy I can trust,” said former Massachusetts Treasurer Joseph D. Malone ’78, a Republican who sought statewide office several times during his career.

Many politicos, particularly those on the left, are skeptical of Brown’s political posturing. But, regardless of oft-criticized campaign imagery, Hale said Brown’s appeal is convincing.

“The truck, the barn coat, all that stuff—those are props, but he is in a lot of ways an ordinary businessman, a lawyer, normal type guy,” said Hale, who has watched the campaign closely and predicts that Brown will win. “He’s not a member of an elite profession.”

Raised by his divorced mother, Brown’s childhood was spent moving from home to home and was marred by physical and sexual abuse. Though he rose out of his troubled family life, becoming a star basketball player at Wakefield High School in suburban Boston and receiving a scholarship to Tufts, the experience shaped many of Brown’s stances on women’s issues, which are more progressive than those of his party.

“I’ve been fighting since I was six years old to protect women’s rights,” Brown said in a debate on Oct. 10. While a student at Tufts, Brown joined the Army ROTC, an affiliation he has maintained throughout his subsequent career in law and then politics. Though he has never seen active duty, Brown was promoted to colonel earlier this year shortly after transferring to the Maryland National Guard. Brown now sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

After graduating from Tufts in 1981, Brown earned a law degree at Boston College Law School and subsequently worked as a real estate lawyer. In 1993, Brown was elected assessor of Wrentham, Mass., changing the course of his career and providing his first foray into politics.

Two years later he was elected to the town’s Board of Selectmen, and then in 1998 he made the jump to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Brown served in the Massachusetts Senate from 2004 until he upended the state, winning the seat of longtime Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 in the winter of 2010.

POLITICAL INDEPENDENT

Standing next to Democratic State Rep. Christopher G. Fallon in Malden, Mass. two months before Election Day, Scott Brown looked confident. Fallon, a Democrat and longtime colleague of Brown, had just become the first sitting Democrat to endorse Brown, and the senator was showing off his independent streak.

“Out of...anyone in the United States Senate right now, I’m the second-most bi-partisan senator,” Brown said.

He was citing a Congressional Quarterly study that showed he had only voted with his party 53 percent of the time during his first year in the Senate.

The figure is one of the Brown campaign’s favorite numbers to tout on the trail, and it highlights his willingness to work across the aisle—a tendency that political experts say is the product of years spent in the Democratic-dominated Massachusetts Legislature where liberals far outnumber those on the right.

“There’s not much opportunity in the Massachusetts Legislature to get anything done if you vote strictly with Republicans because there are so few of them,” Hale said.

When he was elected to the State Senate, Brown was one of six Republicans in the 40-member body.

The rising Republican proved himself willing to work with Democrats, particularly on issues affecting veterans. The latter group occupied much of Brown’s time while in the legislature as he fought for increased benefits for active soldiers and veterans. He often cites his work on a “Welcome Home” bill, which gave veterans a $1000 bonus upon their return from overseas, as one of his proudest achievements in state government.

Also of particular interest for Brown during his time on Beacon Hill was legislation toughening penalties for sexual abuse of minors and increasing funding for the Metropolitan Council For Educational Opportunity, commonly called METCO, which provides educational options for poor students in urban neighborhoods.

But political experts familiar with his time in the legislature say Brown was not always a friend to Democrats. He more often than not voted with Republicans on fiscal and social issues—by some accounts up to 90 percent of the time on tax-related measures—and was generally supportive of Republican Governor Mitt Romney.

That split has carried over into Brown’s time in Congress. Critics have pointed out that on high-profile issues, the Republican senator votes with his party up to 70 percent of the time.

Brown voted with Republicans in support of the controversial Keystone oil pipeline and refused to endorse any Democratic budget proposal. He also parted with Democratic colleagues to vote against the DREAM Act and for an extension of Bush-era tax cuts.

For all the bipartisan promises he made during his 2010 campaign, Brown also promised to vote against President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill, a promise he upheld in voting for its repeal.

Brown’s own legislative projects during his brief term were modest and often apolitical. He introduced the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge Act to end insider trading in the House and Senate earlier this year. As he did during his time in the State Senate, Brown also worked to introduce veterans legislation. In addition to the Armed Services Committee, Brown sits on the Homeland Security Committee, and Veteran’s Affairs Committee.

“He’s probably not the best Republican vote in the Senate, but he is a Republican vote,” Hale said.

BACK TO THE TRAIL

As he has toured the state picking up endorsements from Democratic politicians in anticipation of the election, Brown has played up his bipartisanship and played down his Republican ties. He has repeatedly dodged questions on the campaign trail about his former colleague Romney, whose campaign shares management with Brown’s.

Instead, Brown has embraced Obama time and again, including footage of the Democratic president in advertisements and plugging anecdotes about their work together into debates and speeches.

Brown’s only tweet during the Oct. 16 presidential debate tied the senator to the president.

“Proud to have worked with Pres Obama on Hire a Hero to promote Veterans’ jobs and get an invite to the White House for bill signing,” it read.

In debates, Brown has consistently highlighted his progressive stances on women’s issues and education funding. Brown is pro-choice and has disagreed with Republicans over their proposals for across the board federal budget cuts.

Warren has not been shy to snap back, pointing out inconsistencies between Brown’s campaign statements and his voting record on women’s issues, tax policy, and energy policy.

Democrats have used ads in an attempt to tie Brown to his party—a strategy political analysts say could be effective and will likely be necessary to defeat the popular senator.

“The problem he has is now he has a record. And the record has two parts of it: the bipartisan part and partisan part,” said Democratic political consultant Michael Goldman. Promises that worked in 2010 against Coakley do not hold up in the face of legislative evidence, he added.

But Brown is a smart campaigner. Even after Warren’s success in the polls and Brown’s attacks on her character, Brown’s favorability ratings have remained high at 54 percent, according to a recent Boston Globe poll. In other words, political experts say, he has been able to keep himself largely above the partisan and personal fight he has picked with Warren.

Brown plans to spend his final days on the campaign trail touring the state by bus.

He will begin in his childhood hometown of Wakefield and end the weekend-long trip back in Wrentham, his current home and the city where he launched his career as a citizen legislator years ago. He will shift away from attack ads, Brown’s campaign says, as the Senator tried one last time to convince voters he puts “people over party.”

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu.

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PoliticsElizabeth WarrenState Politics2012 Election