Former senator Scott Brown appeared to place a temporary freeze on his political career Monday, announcing that he had joined a Boston law firm and, senior Massachusetts Republicans said, removing the most serious GOP obstacle to former nominee Charles D. Baker’s potential candidacy for governor next year.
In another and perhaps firmer sign that Brown is no longer a factor in that race, Baker has told associates that his calculus around a run now hinges less on Brown and more on whether Baker believes a Republican can win a statewide race in Massachusetts.
“They’ve had a conversation and Scott’s turned to other things. He’s not running for governor in 2014,” said one prominent Republican with knowledge of the exchange, which took place last month.
A Republican fund-raiser with ties to both the Brown and Baker camps confirmed the February conversation in which Brown indicated to Baker that he would not seek the corner office next year. Governor Deval Patrick has said he will not seek a third term, leaving a wide-open race.
Brown said Monday that he had signed on with Nixon Peabody, focusing on the financial services industry and commercial real estate. Prospects for a Brown gubernatorial bid appeared to wane last month after he joined Fox News, the right-leaning cable network, as a commentator.
In a telephone interview, Brown declined to directly address whether he and Baker had discussed the 2014 campaign.
“I meet with Charlie all the time,” Brown said. “I have business dealings with him all the time. I speak to him regularly, give him guidance regularly.”
Baker, a former health care executive and state budget chief, lost to Patrick by six percentage points in 2010, less than 10 months after Brown shocked Attorney General Martha Coakley to win the Senate special election to fill the slot long held by Edward M. Kennedy.
Since then, top Republicans say, Baker has oscillated about whether to run again, eager to return to Beacon Hill but uncertain about whether a decidedly Democrat-leaning state would revert to electing a Republican governor to counterbalance the Democrats’ grip on the Legislature. Before Patrick’s victory in 2006, the state had chosen a Republican chief executive in every election since 1990.
Former governor William F. Weld said he had tried to convince Baker that as a second-time candidate he would adjust more naturally to the campaign trail.
“When he and I last talked about it, I said, ‘You’re going find it easier the second time in ways you don’t even apprehend right now. Your path will be easier. You just won’t have to think about things that needed to be top-of-mind before,’ ” said Weld, who hired Baker as a top aide in his administration. “And he seemed to think that was right.”
The former governor said that he did not think Brown’s move to Nixon Peabody prevents him from running in 2014.
At a press conference Monday, Brown said he would not be a lobbyist and pointed out that he is prohibited by law from lobbying former colleagues in Congress for two years. But he will be working at the often gray intersection of government affairs and business.
During his unsuccessful run for reelection against Democrat Elizabeth Warren last year, the financial services industry was Brown’s biggest donor group.
“I can’t lobby members of Congress, but certainly I can instruct the firm when they’re making an approach and trying to do something, on the pitfalls and potential problem areas, so they can make their decisions going forward,” Brown said at a press conference at Nixon Peabody’s offices on the 25th floor of an office tower in downtown Boston.
A Nixon Peabody spokeswoman, describing Brown as “an at-will employee,’’ said the arrangement does not include a time commitment.
“We’re invested in him, he’s invested in us, but there’s no specific timeframe that was discussed,” said the spokeswoman, Allison McClain.
The job is the third Brown has accepted since his loss to Warren in November.
He also joined the board of a Massachusetts paper company.
Brown did not answer directly when asked whether he has promised Nixon Peabody or other potential candidates not to run for governor in 2014.
“Not quite sure what the future holds,” Brown said. “I’ll make an announcement, I would think, in a while. But, for now, Nixon Peabody is providing me with the flexibility that I need to continue on with my work at Fox and also speaking and doing other things that I enjoy doing, and that’s one of the important reasons I wanted to sign on with them.”
Federal campaign finance documents showed Brown’s war chest with $287,461.91 at the end of December, funds that he would not be allowed to spend directly on a state-level race.
Under stricter state fund-raising rules, Brown would not be able to raise money in the historic amounts that propelled him to an underdog victory in 2010.
Baker did not respond to an interview request left with General Catalyst Partners, the venture capital firm where he is a listed as an entrepreneur in residence.
If Brown chooses not to run for governor, Baker would probably emerge as a party establishment favorite.
Other prospective contenders include any one of the Republican contenders now vying to succeed former senator John F. Kerry, should one of them not ultimately win the seat.
They are Cohasset investor Gabriel Gomez, former US attorney Michael J. Sullivan, and state Representative Daniel Winslow.