DERRY, N.H. — Democrats have called Scott Brown a carpetbagger and suggested the former Massachusetts senator is going to stick out in New Hampshire like a flamingo in the White Mountains. But the unusual demographics of this state might blunt that attack and help Brown resurrect his political fortunes on fresh territory.
Contrary to the popular stereotype of the New Hampshire voter as a flinty, 10th-generation farmer who traces his roots to a soldier in the Continental Army, about two-thirds of New Hampshire adults were born in another state — and a quarter of them were born in Massachusetts.
Even in an era of mobility, New Hampshire stands out for its abundance of transplants: Only six states have a smaller proportion of native-born residents, according to Kenneth M. Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.
This influx of residents is one reason Republicans feel hopeful about Brown’s ability to shake off the interloper label.
Over the last five decades, New Hampshire, once a bastion of old-line Yankee Republicans, has turned more Democratic. But the politically potent southern part of the state has become more conservative as it has filled with residents fleeing Massachusetts in search of less expensive housing, lower taxes, and a more libertarian ethos.
These Massplants, as some call them, could be an important base of support for Brown. A UNH poll released Thursday showed Brown’s potential Democratic opponent, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, leading Brown among all voters by 45 percent to 39 percent. But among voters who moved from Massachusetts, Brown was the clear winner, topping Shaheen 50 percent to 37 percent.
Most of these former Massachusetts residents live in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, along the Massachusetts line, which together provide half the vote in any given election, according to Dante J. Scala, a political scientist at UNH.
Those two counties are also among the most conservative in the state. For example, the share of the state’s Republican presidential primary vote coming out of Hillsborough and Rockingham counties rose from 44 percent in 1976 to 56 percent in 2012, Scala said.
Shaheen lost Rockingham county in her two previous Senate races, in 2002 and 2008, and won Hillsborough county once, in 2008.
Derry, a small town about 40 miles from Boston, is typical of the region. Many people here relocated from Masachusetts, and still work in the Boston area and watch Boston television stations. But they are proud to live in a state with no income or sales tax and a more conservative mind-set.
In Derry, “I’d say half the people are from Massachusetts,” said Judy St. Laurent, a Lowell native who moved to town 45 years ago after her husband got a job in Nashua. As long as Brown pays taxes in New Hampshire, she sees no problem with him running for office in the state.
“If he smartened up and got out of Massachusetts, all the better,” she said, as she had her hair styled at Ginette’s Beauty Shop.
Jen Lague, 43, a Derry resident who runs an accounting and wealth-management firm with her husband, was also unconcerned with Brown’s Massachusetts roots. She moved to New Hampshire two decades ago, after living in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina — “you name it.”
“He has every right to do it. It’s Live Free or Die,” she said over a cappuccino at The Coffee Factory. “If he can bring a Trader Joe’s, Chipotle, and a Target to Derry, I’ll vote for him.”
‘He might have a house in Connecticut next.’
Democrats say attacking Brown’s transplant status will be a potent way to question his motives. They say his decision to sell his longtime home in Wrentham and move to his summer home in Rye last year indicates that he was merely looking for a new launching pad for political office.
“He’s really a political tourist,” said Kathleen N. Sullivan, a former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, who disclosed that her husband grew up in Leominster. “It’s not like he knows New Hampshire, and is saying, ‘Boy, I can hardly wait to retire here.’ It’s that he’s basically looking for a place to run, and that’s the difference. It’s why he’s here.”
The state Democratic Party has repeatedly tweaked Brown for relocating so recently to the state.
A party-produced video shows footage of him from past campaigns boasting that he was a “Massachusetts Republican” who had grown up in the state and planned to remain there.
The party has also pointedly referred to Brown as “former Massachusetts politician Scott Brown,” and has said, “he’ll find himself in a tough Republican primary against Republicans who are actually from New Hampshire.”
Brown will face three other Republicans — former US Senator Bob Smith, former state Senator Jim Rubens, and activist Karen Testerman — in a September primary, before he could challenge Shaheen in the November general election.
Hilary Palmer, a waitress at MaryAnn’s Diner in Derry, said Brown’s recent move to New Hampshire did make her wonder how committed he is to the state.
“Who knows?” she said. “He might have a house in Connecticut next.”
It’s too early to tell if other voters will share her concerns. But such attacks could resonate, particularly with New Hampshire natives and voters in the northern part of the state, which has not seen an infusion of transplants and will also be crucial in the race.
Brown has strenuously defended his Granite State bona fides by emphasizing that he was born at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, just over the line from New Hampshire, and has roots in New Hampshire that date back nine generations.
On Thursday, just before he officially entered the race, he tweeted a photo of himself as a baby at his first home on Islington Street in Portsmouth.
Republicans also point out that Shaheen was born in Missouri, although she moved to New Hampshire more than four decades ago and has held office in the state since 1990.
Arthur Evans, a 49-year-old manager at Derry Feed & Supply Co., and Derry native, said he believes a Brown-Shaheen race would turn on Shaheen’s vote for the federal health care law, which is unpopular in the state. The fact that Brown came from Massachusetts won’t be an issue, he said.
“To be honest with you, the area of New Hampshire that we’re in is a suburb of Mass.,” he said. “We’re just a suburb of Lawrence, Methuen, that labor market. This is not New Hampshire.”Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe-.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.