NORTH ANDOVER — You would have thought it were a campaign event: Senator Scott Brown, and his wife, Gail Huff, singing along with their daughter, Ayla, as she led a rendition of "Jingle Bells" for the crowd at a trees-for-troops Christmas party.
Brown was in his trademark barn jacket, his green pickup truck parked yards away at Smolak Farms, as person after person came up to him and said they were political supporters.
Yet it was December, not October, and it highlighted the netherworld in which Brown now finds himself.
After losing a bid for reelection last month, the Massachusetts Republican is winding down his nearly three-year stint as a US senator. His staff is packing up his office on Capitol Hill, he delivered his farewell address on the Senate floor on Wednesday, and his term will end on Jan. 2.
But Brown is also priming his campaign machine, should there be a special election to replace Senator John F. Kerry.
Brown quietly updated his campaign's organizational paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Dec. 4. He held an equally below-the-radar fund-raising coffee reception on Tuesday just blocks from his Senate office. And he is maneuvering to get his deputy campaign finance manager elected chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party.
Installing the chair would give the senator de facto control over $700,000 he helped raise this year for a victory fund jointly held with the state GOP — enough to jump-start any race to succeed Kerry.
Brown's senior colleague is under consideration for an Obama administration Cabinet position, and Washington is buzzing that an announcement could come Friday, when both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have a rare schedule overlap in the nation's capital.
Kerry is reportedly being considered for both jobs, and President Obama is said to want to unveil a revamped national security team — including a new CIA director and second-term national security adviser — in a single announcement.
"Sure, I'd love to see him back; I'd love that he'd never left," Senator John McCain said of Brown during an interview with the Globe on Tuesday. "But I don't know the dynamics of the political scene — John Kerry leaves or not — all that is stuff we love to conjecture about but are clueless about."
Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who was guest speaker at Brown's fund-raiser, also reacted favorably to a scenario that would return Brown to the Senate.
"It takes a lot of moving pieces for that to happen, but if it did, I think it would be great," Thune told the Globe. "I just think he's somebody we'll really miss around here, and the people of Massachusetts are going to miss, too."
Brown did not respond to requests for an interview, but he hinted he would be interested in running again during his concession speech after Democrat Elizabeth Warren beat him in November.
He repeated large chunks of that speech in his Senate farewell remarks Wednesday, in which he also declared his opposition to changes in the filibuster process that several Democrats, including Warren, have supported.
"As I've said many times before, victory and defeat is temporary," Brown said. "Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again."
Brown used his nine-minute speech to recite many of his accomplishments, including the three bills he helped pass that afforded him invitations to White House signing ceremonies. He also echoed the bipartisan themes that were central to his campaign.
"I have been and still am deeply concerned about the lack of bipartisan efforts to solve our country's most pressing economic challenges," the senator said.
But even as he spoke against gridlock, Brown also argued in favor of the importance of allowing the minority Republican Party to block legislation. Invoking the movie "Lincoln," Brown said that even if issues take months to resolve, that should not be considered a detriment to a vibrant democratic body.
"I'm deeply concerned about any changes in the rules that are being proposed to eliminate the ability for both sides to battle and do battle in a thoughtful and respectful manner," the senator said.
Brown was the least-senior member of the lowly Republican caucus in the state Senate when he became a national figure in January 2010 by winning the special election to replace the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Democrats were stunned their candidate, Attorney General Martha Coakley, lost the seat held by a party icon, and vowed to reclaim it when it came up for election again this fall. Party leaders in Washington recruited Warren, a Harvard Law School professor and consumer advocate, and she and Brown outraised all other congressional candidates in the country this year.
Now, Warren is undergoing Senate training while Brown is saying his goodbyes. He remains a senator through New Year's, and he used his bully pulpit to blast both Obama and congressional leaders for failing to reach a deal that avoids the automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that could send the country over the so-called fiscal cliff. "During the last six to eight months, people have known this," Brown told reporters after he and his daughter arrived at Smolak Farms.
"It's a political and tactical effort to drive things to the end and then say to people, 'Whoa, you know, Christmas is tomorrow, you better get this done.' Well, you now what? I don't care. I'll stay there and work until January 2d and try to find some type of solution."
That attitude has endeared Brown to voters like Marianne Martinkus, a military wife and mother of two who bumped into the senator during the Christmas party.
"I just shook Scott Brown's hand; I'm never washing it again," Martinkus declared with a laugh to no one in particular.
Later, she told a reporter: "He's a likeable guy. He's got a great platform. I love that he's willing to work with anyone from either party."
The sentiment was echoed by Bill Brewster, one of the lobbyists who attended the fund-raiser for Brown on Tuesday at the offices of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It is charged with electing Republicans to the chamber.
"It seems to me too many people are set in an ideology and not willing to listen to another side of an argument. He struck me as somebody who could do that," said Brewster, who hastened to add that he had never brought any of his 33 clients in to see Brown.
Senator Richard Lugar, a fellow Republican from Indiana who is also leaving the Senate on Jan. 2 after losing a party primary earlier this year, lamented that Brown did not have a long tenure in a body he himself has served for 36 years.
"He was a good listener, a very honest interpreter of his own views, and not intimidated by the interest groups," said Lugar. In his farewell speech, Brown noted that he was the 1,914th person to sign the book accepting the Senate oath.
The question is whether he will get to sign it again.