NASHUA — A Granite State welcome wagon, it wasn’t.
More than a hundred protesters, from left and right, greeted newly minted New Hampshire resident Scott Brown here Thursday night as he headlined a state GOP holiday party.
Inside the private fund-raiser, Brown, who is a potential challenger of US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, was said to have been greeted warmly and to have posed for photographs with supporters, while remaining coy about his plans.
Across the street, two protests merged, as gun-rights advocates, raffling off a firearm, stood shoulder to shoulder with Democrats to encourage the former Massachusetts senator to return south, or, at least, not to run for office here.
Most of the protesters came for the rally of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, which bills itself as the state’s “only no-compromise gun rights organization.” The organization opposes Brown, a Republican who said in December 2012 that he supported a federal ban on assault weapons.
There were also about 20 local and state Democrats at the rally, where the disdain for Brown was palpable.
“Scott Brown is clear on the Second Amendment: He doesn’t like it; he doesn’t support it,” said state Representative JR Hoell, the secretary of the coalition and an organizer of the protest. “He’s no different than Jeanne Shaheen.”
Brown, who had long been opposed to a federal assault weapons ban, reversed course after the December 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“He’s a Bloomberg liberal,” J.J. Valera, 66, said of Brown, referring to Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, a strong proponent of increased federal gun control measures.
Valera, chuckling, said opposition to Brown was the “only time we ever agreed with the Democrats.”
Brown arrived at the back door of the GOP holiday party venue, a few hundred feet from protesters. He declined to say whether he was going to run for Senate in New Hampshire. But he said he would officially establish residency at his home in Rye, N.H., in the next few days. He said he did not have a timeline for his political decision-making.
At least three New Hampshire Republicans have already announced bids for the GOP nomination to take on Shaheen, but a number of top Republican operatives in the state believe Brown would make the strongest candidate.
About 10 pro-Brown counterprotesters, all College Republicans, stood across the street from the main rally holding “Run Scott, Run!” signs.
Most of the gun-rights supporters among the protesters were decked out in blaze orange gear, and many put their names in for a raffle the organizers held. The prizes included an AR-15 rifle, 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and gun accessories.
Brown appeared buoyed by the protests. “It kind of energizes me,,” he said with a wide smile.
Brown, who won a 2010 special US Senate election but was unseated in 2012 by Elizabeth Warren, has repeatedly visited the state over the past year, making speeches and lending his name and time to raise funds for GOP candidates.
Shaheen is currently the target of television ads knocking her for her support of the Affordable Care Act.
Speaking to reporters before he entered the event, which was closed to the press, Brown did not mention Shaheen, but spoke briefly about the Affordable Care Act.
“Obamacare, as you know, is a mess, and it’s really dramatically affecting people’s everyday lives,” Brown said.
Asked what he would miss about his former hometown of Wrentham, Brown turned reflective.
“I love Massachusetts, and I loved Wrentham. It was a wonderful town to raise our kids,” he said. But, he explained, his first home was in New Hampshire, and his family had “long and strong ties to New Hampshire.” Rye, he said, is just a short drive north.
“It’s, what, 90 miles away,” he said. “While you miss some things, there’s a new chapter in our lives. . . . We’re kind of excited about the opportunities.”