BEDFORD, N.H. — Beer in hand and sweat-soaked T-shirt sticking to his chest, Scott Brown made his way through the crowd of hundreds of fellow runners, many sporting fake mustaches or oversized sombreros.
After finishing a Cinco de Mayo-themed five kilometer roadrace Sunday morning, he swilled Dos Equis, posed for cell phone pictures, and engaged scores of people in short, upbeat conversations. They began with Brown inquiring how they did in the race and ended with the same refrain: “Can I count on your vote?”
In his bid to unseat New Hampshire US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Brown has placed an outsize emphasis on retail political events. From pouring drinks for customers at a restaurant in Lebanon, to meeting voters at a Market Basket in Epping, Brown has worked to exude an accessible image in New Hampshire, where meeting politicians in person is particularly prized by voters.
Most of his interactions on Sunday morning were quick, schmoozy and shied away from policy specifics. And, at an event where every runner got two drinks, the vibe from many who approached Brown was light.
“Are you drunk already?” he joked with one woman who struggled to get her camera to function before posing for a photo with him.
Mike and Michelle Hamilton of Weare, N.H. smiled when they spotted Brown drinking a beer and talking with other runners, many of whom recognized him and asked the former Massachusetts US Senator to pose with them for a photo.
“He seems real. He seems genuine,” Mike said, adding that for someone running for office, “that carries a lot of weight.”
Brown made his way over and posed with the two for a photo. Afterward, Mike said he had not yet made up his mind about who to vote for — it is, after all, a long way to November — but meeting Brown in person was helpful.
“Coming to events like this, people aren’t here to solve the world’s problems, they’re here to have fun and meet people and relax and let their hair down,” Brown said later in an interview. “I’m one of them.”
At least one runner engaged Brown in a more substantive conversation.
Angela Boyle, a registered dental hygienist from Londonderry, engaged Brown in a more policy-heavy discussion at the race after-party. He told her he was “pro-choice” and hawkish on national security issues.
Boyle, who favors “moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans,” said the encounter was necessary but not sufficient for Brown to earn her vote. She said she wanted to study up on where he stood on all the issues and he “still had a lot of work to do.”
Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, said face-to-face interactions with voters are particularly important for Brown, who moved his primary residence to the state late last year.
“In Scott Brown’s case, recognizing that he’s just become a citizen of the state so recently, he’s got to make up for it by an aggressive retail politicking style,” he said.
Shaheen, the professor explained, already has a lot of “political capital” in the bank. Before being elected US Senator in 2008, Shaheen had served as governor as a state senator.
But the local, person-to-person interactions will be important for her as well, he said, so as “not to be seen as taking voters for granted.
“For a different reason, she’ll want to be seen out and about as well,” he said.
Shaheen, for her part, had one public event on Sunday, joining the rest of the state’s Congressional delegation and the governor at a ceremony honoring soldiers who returned from a deployment in Afghanistan this year.
Shaheen aides said she has been focused more on helping Granite Staters through her Senate work than on campaign-style events.
But, in a statement, campaign manager Mike Vlacich noted Shaheen had hosted the first in a series of “grassroots summits” on Saturday, meeting with volunteers and supporters.
“Our campaign is proud of the broad support for Jeanne Shaheen across New Hampshire, and regardless of who the Republicans nominate, we are building the grassroots network we will need to win in a midterm election year,” he said, referencing the fact that Brown first faces a contested GOP primary.