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Shaheen shuns scrapping with Scott Brown

But takes light jab at his credentials

Governor Maggie Hassan (left), and US Senators Jeanne Shaheen (center) and Kelly Ayotte greeted members of the 237th Military Police Company of the New Hampshire Army National Guard at a homecoming event Sunday at Southern New Hampshire University.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Governor Maggie Hassan (left), and US Senators Jeanne Shaheen (center) and Kelly Ayotte greeted members of the 237th Military Police Company of the New Hampshire Army National Guard at a homecoming event Sunday at Southern New Hampshire University.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — US Senator Jeanne Shaheen declined to engage a public back-and-forth with Scott Brown three days after he made official his bid to unseat her. Instead, she offered a glancing knock on his New Hampshire credentials.

Shaheen spoke in the corner of a cavernous gymnasium after taking part in a ceremony honoring National Guard soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan, her first public event since Brown’s Thursday announcement. She said in an interview that she would let pundits analyze the state of the nascent race.

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She did not respond directly to Brown’s attacks on her vote in favor of the controversial US health care overhaul or his accusation that she had supported economic policies that hurt everyday people. Instead, speaking broadly, she defended the Affordable Care Act and her record boosting the economic fortunes of people in New Hampshire.

But when pressed about what most differentiated her and Brown, Shaheen offered a light strike on former Massachusetts senator’s rationale for running in New Hampshire.

“I’ve been working for the people of New Hampshire for the past 18 years. This is my home. This is where my kids grew up,” she said. “My goal has been to serve the people of New Hampshire, not to serve myself.”

Shaheen’s comments, at once avoiding the back-and-forth of the campaign while painting Brown as opportunistic, cohere as part of a larger reelection strategy, campaign analysts said.

“The fact that she’s not responding too much makes sense” at this point, said Andrew E. Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

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He said most voters are not paying attention to the race, so the specifics of April jousting between campaigns will probably be lost on the people who will determine the election’s outcome. Smith added it was a “smart tactical move” for Shaheen to attack Brown only indirectly at this early stage, a long way from the November general election.

Still, Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said it was clear Shaheen wanted to create an early contrast between her years of service and Brown’s recent relocation to New Hampshire. She is a former state senator and governor who was first elected to the US Senate in 2008.

Brown, who was unseated by Elizabeth Warren in 2012, moved his primary residence from Wrentham to New Hampshire late last year. He announced in March that he was exploring a run for US Senate in the Granite State and made his campaign official Thursday, saying he wanted to be “a true independent voice for the people of New Hampshire.”

In his kickoff remarks, he emphasized his ties to the state, where he spent the earliest part of his life, and attacked Shaheen for her vote in favor the Affordable Care Act, which he said had a negative effect on health care options for many people in New Hampshire.

On Sunday, Shaheen stuck to standard Democratic talking points: She wanted to fix problems with the law, but did not think anyone wanted to go back to a system “where the insurance companies controlled people’s health care.”

Smith said in the months ahead Shaheen would need to craft a specific response to Brown’s health care attacks. But since public opinion on the law could improve or further sour, it was wise to wait, he said.

Brown did not have public campaign events on Sunday. He attended “a joint bridal shower for daughters Arianna and Ayla,” his spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said in an e-mail.

Before he can face off against Shaheen, he must triumph in a Republican primary. Other GOP US Senate hopefuls in New Hampshire include former US senator Bob Smith, former state senator Jim Rubens, and conservative activist Karen Testerman.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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