Why Scott Brown Might Run for Governor Instead of John Kerry's Senate Seat

The Atlantic
Why Scott Brown Might Run for Governor Instead of John Kerry's Senate Seat
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Why Scott Brown Might Run for Governor Instead of John Kerry's Senate Seat

Scott Brown's instant comeback — and the Republicans' chance to pick up a Senate seat as soon as this spring — has been upended now that the recently ousted Senator appears to be weighing a run not just to fill Secretary of State-to-be John Kerry's seat but, separately, to become the next governor of Massachusetts. 

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According to two recent reports from the Associated Press (on Saturday) and Politico (today), Brown is queasy about running for the same office from which he was recently ousted. In terms of pure political calculation, this makes sense: if he were to lose, he'd do so on the coattails of his very public loss to Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And if he were to win, notes Politico, he'd have to run again in 2014:

Even if Brown were to win an expected late spring special election for the Senate — he would enter as a favorite — he’d have to pick up and do it all over again next year, in a higher-turnout contest that could also be tough to win. A loss in that race could end his political career.

So Brown's reluctance is understandable in terms of his own livelihood. But it's less so in the context of Massachusetts politics, especially the state's GOP. Here's why:

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Scott Brown's Senate Chances Are Good

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Put simply, Scott Brown received nearly half of the vote in his loss to Elizabeth Warren. He didn't lose by a landslide. And if he doesn't run in June, who will? There are no other serious, Republican contenders — a reality undoubtedly connected to Brown's considerable stature within the Bay State. (He continues to rate insanely good numbers among Massachusetts voters.)

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Brown's likely opponent in a special Senate election this spring now almost certainly would appear to be Democratic Congressman Edward Markey, who is currently on a hiring spree to staff up on a shortened campaign. There are a handful of potential, albeit small-time challengers — Jonah Pesner, a rabbi; the singer James Taylor; Congressmen Mike Capuano and Stephen Lynch. None of them would be able to match Markey's wide institutional support — Kerry himself has endorsed Markey; so has former Senator Barney Frank, who is positioning himself to fill Kerry's seat between next week, when Kerry is likely to be confirmed, and the special election later this spring. But what Markey makes up for in friends he currently lacks in fundraising and big-time, quick-pitch campaign experience — remember that Brown first entered the Senate after a special election following the death of Ted Kennedy.

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Were Brown to bow out of the Senate race, it's not impossible for state leaders to quickly recruit and train a decent conservative candidate like they did with Brown in 2009, but it's unlikely such a candidate would stand a decent chance at winning. Brown's victory in early 2010 had a lot to do with his likability ... and the fact that his opponent, Martha Coakley, didn't really understand how to run a campaign. You can't transfer Brown's aura to another person, and Democrats have learned from Coakley's mistakes — indeed, Markey recently hired several of Elizabeth Warren's campaign aides. If Brown doesn't run for Senate, then Edward Markey stands to be a very big favorite to snag back Kerry's seat for Democrats.

Scott Brown's Gubernatorial Chances Are, Well, Less Good

The case for Scott Brown as the Governor of Massachusetts is, on its surface, convincing. Brown, like Mitt Romney, is a friendly blue-state Republican whom Massachusetts voters trust to represent their interests on the state level. After all, Romney delivered universal health care to Massachusetts. Beyond their shared party and state, however, comparisons between the two men are difficult to find. Brown, unlike Romney, rose to his former seat by way of progressively higher political offices — first property assessor, then his town's board of selectmen, and finally state legislature — whereas Romney was elected Governor on the basis of his executive leadership in private equity. From Politico's piece:

Most Massachusetts politicos “see Brown more as a legislator than an executive,” said a senior Republican strategist in the state. “That’s what he was as a state representative and then a state senator. I think they prefer someone with executive experience, whether it’s Charlie Baker or someone else.”

That's probably a tough sentiment for Scott Brown to disgest. If he's seriously considering running for governor in 2014 — which might even set in motion a possible run for president — then it's almost certain that party operatives are telling him, repeatedly and forcefully, not to do so. (Or at least signaling that much to Politico.) But if he were to run for Senate — even with the full-throated support of state and national Republicans — it would be his third Senate campaign in three years. That wears on the soul — for which his last campaign is pretty good proof.

It's also possible that Brown won't run for anything. But that seems kind of unlikely. He's a likable guy, sure, but he likes his chances.

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