Scott Brown woos South Boston

Campaign full of ads promoting allegiance to neighborhood

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
Senator Scott Brown walked in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Two years ago, he fashioned his campaign around a simple slogan with a firm sense of place: “I’m Scott Brown, I’m from Wrentham, and I drive a truck.’’

But these days, Brown is advertising his allegiance to a different place, South Boston.

On Twitter, he walks with his dogs in South Boston, near his campaign headquarters, and touts the endorsement of former Mayor Ray Flynn, a South Boston fixture. At last month’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, Brown belted out the chorus of “Southie is my Hometown’’ and teased Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren as if she were a tourist: “I hope you didn’t get lost leaving Cambridge again today.’’


South Boston, of course, is not his hometown, but a politician like Brown can do well being seen as a South Boston guy.

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The neighborhood, while steeped in Democratic politics, has long been dominated by Reagan Democrats whose blue-collar ethos and traditional mores provide an ideal backdrop for a Republican trying to appeal to independents and crossover voters. It was the only neighborhood in Boston that Brown won in the 2010 special election. And by planting a flag there, political observers say, he is claiming it as turf he expects to win again.

“To voters around the state, South Boston symbolizes conservative Democrats who are willing to vote Republican,’’ said Rob Gray, a veteran Massachusetts Republican political consultant. “Appearing to be popular in South Boston almost gives permission to conservative Democrats who have moved out of South Boston - or who just relate [to] Southie from afar - to vote for a candidate who they might otherwise not consider due to the R next to their name.’’

Brown sent that signal loud and clear in his 2010 special election. Seizing on his likability in the neighborhood, his campaign produced ads there featuring person-on-the-street testimonials from authentic-sounding supporters. (“I don’t vote for the party,’’ one man says. “Scott Brown is a man of the people.’’)

The tactic is not new, Gray noted. A working-class, politically oriented neighborhood provides a great credibility-boosting backdrop, as Ronald Reagan proved when he stopped in for a beer in 1983 at the nearby Eire Pub in Dorchester. The Eire pub also cropped up in another ad Brown’s campaign released last fall, showing Brown with Flynn at the Irish Festival.


But beyond the symbolism, South Boston has been good to Republicans, from Governors William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci to Brown himself, said Gray. Like Brown, Charles D. Baker, who ran for governor in 2010, also located his headquarters there, but lost the neighborhood to Governor Deval Patrick.

It’s also a community that is deeply invested in politics. Residents are used to getting involved, holding signs, and throwing their individual and collective weight behind their candidate. And while they typically identify as Democrats, their socially conservative leanings can make them more open to Republican and independent candidates than voters in other Democratic strongholds.

“Out in suburbia, people don’t go into a headquarters and hang out and go into detail about how they’re going to deliver this or that,’’ Republican analyst Todd Domke said of the residents. “It’s much more of a personal kind of politics. And they want to see the candidate more.’’

But in an insular place like South Boston, newcomers can have a tough time making inroads, and a politician needs a trusted local to introduce him.

“Doing well in Southie requires local Southie connections who are paving a way for you to do events there and make sure that the crowd’s going to be receptive to you,’’ said Gray. “From Weld to Cellucci to Scott Brown, they all had local Southie pols who were creating campaign appearances behind the scenes to make sure that it was a positive reception.’’


Brown has had help from state Senator John A. Hart, a fellow Tufts University alumnus who now emcees the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast where Brown was feted at center stage and his daughter, singer Ayla Brown, performed.

But now - unlike in the 2010 special election, when many voters were caught up in “the enthusiasm of supporting an underdog,’’ Domke said - Brown’s reelection will depend on deep and broad support from locals who will buck the Democratic establishment, coalescing around Warren in order to get out the vote for him.

“He wants to really send a message to other local Democratic activists and politicians that he respects them, that he’ll work with them,’’ said Domke, “that he’s one of the guys.’’

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @stephanieebbert.