WESTPORT — Jason Locke was mopping mud from the floor of his family’s flooded house when Senator Scott Brown offered to help him carry his waterlogged sofa.
“We’ve got a couple of buddies here,” Brown said, motioning toward a gaggle of news cameras and reporters recording the candidate’s every move. “We can give you a hand.”
It was just seven days before Election Day, but this was not — he and his staff insisted — a campaign stop. This was Brown surveying storm damage in his official capacity as a US senator.
But his political opponent was not far behind him, and neither was the omnipresent specter of the nation’s most closely watched Senate race. Two hours after Brown toured Westport, Elizabeth Warren showed up in the same area near Horseneck Beach, conducting her own tour in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“This was paved?” Warren asked, sounding amazed as she picked her way across about 50 yards of rocky ground where the waves had tossed aside a sheet of asphalt.
Unlike Brown, however, Warren has no official role to play in securing federal assistance and monitoring the cleanup, the reasons Brown gave for his tour. It is one of the inherent advantages Brown has as an elected official — that he can drop the outward trappings of his campaign and go about his official duties, all the while attracting the kind of news coverage candidates crave.
But Brown’s ability to keep the focus on his storm tour was complicated by the fact that he had canceled his participation in a debate scheduled for Tuesday night and was refusing to say whether he wanted to reschedule. While Warren said she would be happy to debate Brown on Thursday, Brown repeatedly brushed aside questions about whether he wanted to debate his challenger again.
“If you want to talk about storm stuff, I’m happy to do it,” he said outside Quincy City Hall. “If you want to talk about campaign stuff, call the campaign . . . We’re dealing, obviously, with the storm and the aftermath, and the campaign is dealing with’’ the Senate race.
Brown’s tour stretched from Rehoboth to Quincy to Gloucester, taking him through many communities that saw high surf and flooding on Monday — and that happen to be strategically important for his reelection campaign. Some are Republican strongholds; others, like Quincy, are blue-collar communities where he has spent time courting voters.
In Westport, Brown was joined by Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a Republican, while Warren was joined by Representative Paul Schmid and state Senator Michael Rodrigues, local Democrats. In Quincy, Brown also met for about 15 minutes behind closed doors with Mayor Thomas P. Koch, a Democrat.
When he stopped by flooded homes, Brown or an aide offered to help the homeowners handle problems with their insurance companies. At Locke’s house in Westport, overlooking Gooseberry Island, Brown also made repeated offers to help move heavy furniture.
But Locke politely declined the senator’s offer.
“You snooze, you lose,” said Brown. “You can’t do it alone.”
On Atlantic Avenue in Westport, Brown met Holly Bronhard, who invited the senator into the living room of her flooded, mud-strewn home on Elephant Rock Beach. “Come and see our beautiful beachfront house,” Bronhard said. “We’re redecorating.”
Brown walked throughout the house, marveling at how the mud had carried deep inside. Speaking to reporters, Brown said that, despite pockets of damage, Massachusetts was “a little lucky this time,” compared with the destruction in New Jersey and New York. He praised Governor Deval Patrick and President Obama for their handling of the storm.
Warren was also quick to praise Patrick. “I talked to the governor last night about it,” she said. “He’s really been out there 24/7, making sure that we’re meeting needs as quickly as possible here in the Commonwealth.”
On her tour, Warren asked the state legislators how high the water had advanced.
Though she largely avoided overt political pronouncements, she said the storm was a reminder of the importance of “making the investments in infrastructure that minimizes the kind of damage from storms like this.” That, of course, is one of Warren’s central campaign themes — that spending more to repair crumbling roads and bridges can put people to work and prevent calamities.