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JOAN VENNOCHI

Scott Brown’s special political magic disappears in N.H.

It’s time for some of that old Scott Brown magic, if there’s any left to brew.

The path back to Washington via New Hampshire must have seemed smoother when the former senator from Massachusetts first considered running from the Granite State. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen looked vulnerable, given President Obama’s unpopularity in New Hampshire and Brown’s vaunted retail skills. To Shaheen’s disadvantage, Obama’s favorability continues to slip; to her advantage, Brown isn’t coming across as exceptionally adept.

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Maybe it’s the natural challenge of transplanting a campaign from one political state of mind to another. Or maybe much of the personal magic attributed to him after his special Senate election victory in 2010 in Massachusetts was more of a media-generated mirage.

Today, his chief vulnerability is the suggestion that he’s a New England variation of “all hat, no cattle” — all truck and barn coat, no gravitas.

The Globe’s recent disclosure of a stake the former senator took in an obscure Florida firm illustrates Brown’s problem with matters of substance. His association with Global Digital Solutions — an enterprise that manufactured no products, only press releases — raised unflattering issues about his judgment and business acumen.

In a scalding editorial, the Concord Monitor said it was the kind of scrutiny that could make the freshly minted New Hampshire resident long for the days when people “merely questioned his geographic commitment to the Granite State.” After first defending the company and his role with it, Brown abruptly resigned last week as “special adviser,” giving up stock that was initially worth $1.3 million. The question now is how much political damage was done before he bailed.

Before that, Brown was already on the confusing side of the national health care debate. As Politico recently reminded readers, Brown supported Romneycare as a Massachusetts state lawmaker, making his objection to Obamacare harder to explain to New Hampshire voters. A Washington Post article also noted that Brown was still campaigning hard against the Affordable Care Act, after other Republican candidates switched to tweaking it. Meanwhile, Brown acknowledged that he carried his 23-year-old daughter on his healthcare plan, compliments of Obama’s law.

In retrospect, the 2010 special Senate election never really tested the depth of Brown’s knowledge or expertise.

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In March, the AP quoted him as saying, “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ’Cause you know, whatever. But I have long, strong ties to this state.” Unfortunately, the “whatever” reference was a reminder of a strange Brown tweet from the past — “Bqhatevwr” — that he blamed on pocket dialing.

Meanwhile, an anecdote recounted by former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in his book “Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises” offered no testament to Brown’s intellectual heft.

Recounting a conversation with “the personable Senator Brown,” Geithner wrote, “When the conversation finally turned to substance, he said he liked the idea of financial reform and expected to be with us. But without any irony or self-consciousness, he said he needed to protect two financial institutions in Massachusetts from the Volcker Rule’s restrictions. Then he furrowed his brow and turned to his aide. ‘Which ones are they, again?’ he asked.”

In retrospect, the 2010 special Senate election never really tested the depth of Brown’s knowledge or expertise. He packaged himself as a charming, unpretentious champion of the little guy. He was an everyman running against smug Democrats who were certain he could never win Ted Kennedy’s seat. Instead, he won “the people’s seat.”

The real test came when he had to represent the voters of Massachusetts, most of whom think little of the national Republican agenda. That was always going to be a tough line for Brown to walk. When it was time for re-election, he didn’t fare well against Elizabeth Warren’s liberal passion.

After losing that match, he left Massachusetts and is trying to recapture that old political magic north of the border. But it’s a longer race where he’ll be forced to answer more questions.

Meanwhile, his everyman image is difficult to maintain, especially now. With Global Digital Solutions, Brown comes off more like just another opportunistic politician trying to enrich himself by lending his name to a sleazy-sounding enterprise. Was it because he didn’t know or didn’t care about the company’s shaky foundations? Neither answer makes a good campaign ad for Brown.

It was easier to attribute Brown’s success in 2010 to some special political magic than to see it for what it might have been — the luck of time and place. Even in more conservative New Hampshire, it will be harder for Brown to conjure up the unusual political conditions that led to his earlier victory.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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