The curious campaign of Scott Brown

As some of you may recall, I endorsed Elizabeth Warren for the US senate as soon as she announced and immediately sent her some money. Although I continued to support her, I was not confident of her chances. Although Massachusetts is a very Democratic state and that seat was the one held by Teddy Kennedy, the incumbent Republican Scott Brown had managed to pull off an upset victory in the 2010 election to fill Kennedy’s remaining term.

I had heard reports that he was a good campaigner who was able to relate well to people and project a moderate image, frequently talking about driving his pickup truck as part of his regular-guy shtick. Even my daughter who lives in Boston and strongly supported Warren said that he seemed very likable and was a good campaigner.

So I was surprised at the way his campaign seemed to take those strengths and shred them by running a campaign of irrelevance and nastiness. As Charles P. Pierce writes:

He spent a month on the nothingburger “scandal” regarding what may or may not have been on Elizabeth Warren’s job applications 20 years ago. Then, he tried to paint her as a corporate shark screwing dying asbestos workers out of their settlement money, only to have a group of those workers, and their lawyers, show up to endorse the work Warren had done. Whereupon, Brown suggested that, perhaps, some of the people appearing in the ads that supported Warren’s work were “actors.” This got him the attention of pissed-off survivors of dead asbestos workers. He was angry. He was petulant. And, on a few occasions, he was more than a little truthless. He ran his own reputation for likability straight into a ditch and, without that, he’s just another Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

In one radio news item that I heard, there was some issue with re-scheduling a debate that had been cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. Brown said that any alternative date would be fine with him, adding, “That’s why I have a truck,. You know, it has four-wheel drive. If she [i.e., Warren] needs a ride, I’m happy to pick her up, and I’ll be there, providing the electricity is on.” I was aghast when I heard it. It had all the patronizing air of “There, there, little woman. I’m a big strong man and I’ll take care of you”. If that comment alienated me, I cannot imagine how women voters in that state would have reacted. And then to make it worse, he was the one who said he could not make any of the dates that were offered and the debate had to be cancelled.

So although not quite in the same class of Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, Scott Brown should be added to the list of candidates who by themselves turned success into failure.


  1. daved says

    Brown only won the first time because his opponent (the state AG, Martha Coakley) ran one of the most incompetent campaigns in memory.

    He came into this election with the advantages of name recognition (he was far better-known than Warren, initially) and a reputation as a nice guy who was able to work across the aisle, both strong positives.

    Warren and Brown agreed at the outset to try to keep outside forces out of the campaign. I think they succeeded, to a large degree. There was plenty of outside money, but I didn’t hear a ton of third-party ads, unlike, say, New Hampshire, where third-party ads were a plague on the land.

    Then Brown threw it away by going way negative, especially by doing it on issues (like Warren’s somewhat dubious claim to Native American ancestry) that nobody cared about, or by flat-out misrepresentation of her record on cases like asbestos.

    Warren, by contrast, tried to portray herself as a friend of the middle class, militant against abuses on Wall Street. She also pointed out that Brown being elected might be the way the GOP got a Senate majority. She could have gone more negative than she did; Brown had some stuff in his past about the mortgage scandals that could have been tied to him, but I don’t think she used it (it wasn’t horrible stuff, but it wasn’t great, either).

    I initially didn’t expect her to be a good campaigner, possibly because of how she sounded in interviews, but she turned out to be much better than I’d expected, and she gave a good speech at the DNC. In the end, she won 54-46, a wider margin than the polls were predicting.

  2. schmeer says

    Wow, other than attacking her for claiming native American heritage I hadn’t heard any of Brown’s negatives mentioned above. Just receiving his idiotic mailers about her claimed heritage every couple of days caused me to try to drum up support for Warren among my friends and family.
    I wouldn’t have voted for him because he will probably side with Republican loons occasionally, but his meanness got me to try to win over other voters to his opponent.

  3. says

    “That’s why I have a truck,. You know, it has four-wheel drive. If she [i.e., Warren] needs a ride, I’m happy to pick her up, and I’ll be there, providing the electricity is on.”…If that comment alienated me, I cannot imagine how women voters in that state would have reacted.

    Wow. To me this sounds like “Don’t worry yourself about anything, little girl. I’ve got a big penis and all so I can get shit done.”

  4. Chiroptera says

    He ran his own reputation for likability straight into a ditch and, without that, he’s just another Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.

    Ha! Good burn!

  5. kaboobie says

    I’m in Massachusetts, and I have to say both the Brown and Warren ads were pretty off-putting. But the racism displayed by Brown’s campaign was disgusting. And apparently his supporters would drive by people holding Warren signs and do the “Indian war cry” at them.

    I have a good friend who did phone-banking for Warren (while 8 months pregnant) and my uncle played his saxophone at her campaign rallies. I’m glad she won.

  6. dmcclean says

    I’m in Massachusetts also.

    I think that Brown’s relentless negative campaigning in this election went essentially unnoticed by his supporters. His nice guy image remains intact with a number of the people I talked to about this election.

    No matter how much he (or, crucially, his surrogates) prevaricated about the asbestos case or the “Liawatha” non-scandal, it didn’t seem to do much to disabuse people of the notion that, aww shucks, he is just a good old truck drivin’, tax hatin’ centrist who just happens to be teamed up with a party with despicable social policies, but don’t worry, he personally doesn’t endorse those. He won’t vote to oppose them, mind you, and if hypothetical President Romney wants to appoint supreme court justices who will undo 60 years of belatedly correct interpretation of the 1st, 9th, 14th, and 15th amendments who is he to oppose them.

    This ability to hold asinine positions while acting like he doesn’t — and how dare you accuse him of such a thing — is a serious strength of Brown as a Republican candidate for national office, and in my opinion was key to his relatively strong showing in Massachusetts in this cycle.

    I also think that his concession speech was essentially perfect from a tactical perspective and that it could well be a springboard for him to other elective offices. Either to Kerry’s seat or to the governorship.

    I suspect he might actually be decent as governor; it seems there’s a lot less lasting damage to be done, a lot more value to the Home Economics writ large approach to government finances, and stronger legislative checks on insanity at the state level.

  7. Uncle Glenny says

    I’m in Massachusetts also, and although I’m pretty informationally isolated (no TV, radio, or local newspaper but fast internet) I’ve got the same impression as dmcclean from following more national internet sources. Hers was the only campaign I’ve donated to other than to get a bit of Obama swag (couldn’t resist the mug with the birth certificate and “Made in the USA” on it).

    I don’t think Brown is to be trusted not to go full-sync-republican in the senate, and we nationally need her there.

  8. Just a good ol' boy ... says


    A real man wouldn’t need electricity to debate. Either that, or he’d have a couple generators in the back of that pickup truck of his ready to fire up …


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