Scott Brown’s candidacy could hurt Charlie Baker
Scott Brown’s entrance into New Hampshire’s US Senate race has created a political and media firestorm that some analysts believe will damage critical underpinnings of Charlie Baker’s gubernatorial candidacy in Massachusetts.
Many of the state and national Republican resources that would have been showered on Baker’s race for governor — in terms of fund-raising, strategists, and manpower — will now be directed at Brown’s challenge to Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Just as problematic for Baker is the huge amount of money that will pour into the Boston media market, aimed at southern New Hampshire, to boost Brown’s candidacy in what the national GOP and the Democrats see as a key battleground over control of the Senate, those analysts say.
Those ads, particularly ones aired by Democratic groups and super PACs supporting Shaheen, are expected to attack the Republican agenda and inflame debates in the governor’s race over hot-button issues that stir partisan passions, such as taxes, income inequality, contraception insurance coverage, and the paycheck fairness act.
That will make it all the more difficult for Baker to downplay the Republican brand that he carries and would undermine his strategy to cast himself as a moderate, nonideological candidate focused on management and fiscal issues, a political profile that has in the past helped to elect GOP candidates in heavily Democratic Massachusetts.
Jeffrey M. Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University, said Baker’s problem is exacerbated by the strong strain of anti-Republican feelings in Massachusetts, particularly regarding the GOP’s national image.
“The national Republican brand is toxic in Massachusetts,’’ Berry said. “Charlie Baker is trying to run as if he’s an independent, but Brown’s candidacy greatly complicates that.”
That complication is becoming clear in some Massachusetts Republican circles, where many feel the party has a good chance of recapturing the governor’s office this year. Brown, who lost his Massachusetts Senate seat in 2012, faces opposition in the GOP primary in New Hampshire, but analysts expect he will handily win the nomination.
“We are going to see the national Republican right wing pollution all over the airwaves,’’ said one veteran Massachusetts GOP strategist.
With limited slots available for political advertising on television, the volume of the Senate ads could in itself crimp Baker’s media plans to hone his moderate, independent profile. Federal candidates are given a priority over state candidates in placing advertising.
Baker aides dismiss the idea that his gubernatorial candidacy has been dealt a blow by Brown’s decision to seek another Senate seat.
“What happens in New Hampshire will largely stay
in New Hampshire,’’ said Timothy Buckley, Baker’s campaign spokesman.
Other Baker advisers also downplayed the impact of the debate north of the border. Some said the Brown-Shaheen campaign could actually work in Baker’s favor. They say some of the issues that pro-Brown forces will push in their advertising — such as problems with President Obama’s health care plan, general fiscal policy, and voter fatigue with Obama — could mitigate any damage created by the anti-Republican attacks on the former Massachusetts senator.
“I have more faith in Massachusetts than that,’’ said Ron Kaufman, the state’s Republican national committeeman, when asked if the Senate race would muddle Baker’s image and message.
He insists that Republicans in fact have an advantage in having two strong GOP races getting voters’ attention.
“It’s better for us to have another race than just have Democratic ads dominating the Boston media market,” he said.
Berry disagrees, noting that the cacophony generated by a flood of attack ads, fueled by what is expected to be a bitterly partisan debate in New Hampshire, will hit the nerve of strong Massachusetts antipathy toward the Republican brand.
“It will evoke images of [Senate minority leader] Mitch McConnell and [House Speaker] John Boehner and the gridlock in Congress,” he said, impressions that he said will rouse a Democratic backlash.
In 2012 Brown and Elizabeth Warren, his Democratic challenger, agreed to a pact that kept out third-party expenditures. They spent more than $20 million in television advertising in the final months of the campaign. Brown has rejected calls for a similar agreement, prompting predictions that advertising spending in the Boston media market for both the US Senate race and the governor’s campaign will surge to record heights.
Brown told an audience in Portsmouth, N.H., last month that his contest with Shaheen will cost “more than you’ve ever seen,” according to the Portmouth Herald.
Another nonpartisan analyst — Thomas J. Whalen, political historian at Boston University, who has written several books about Massachusetts politics — also points to the strain on Republican financial resources because of the diversion of the party’s attention to New Hampshire.
“No one is going to care about the Massachusetts governor’s race now,’’ Whalen said. “The Senate race is going to be the high drama.”
Whalen said deep-pocketed GOP donors, both in Massachusetts and nationally, will be under pressure to spend on Brown’s race, where the political stakes are far higher.
For the party, grabbing the Senate seat is far more important than gaining control of the Massachusetts State House.
That could be a major problem for Baker’s fund-raising. According to GOP sources with knowledge of Republican fund-raising, the two races will come as Massachusetts donors are tapped out after an unprecedented series of campaigns, beginning with Brown’s January 2010 election.
Immediately after that, the state political world plunged into a gubernatorial race, which was followed by two competitive US Senate races and now another campaign for governor.
Baker’s campaign finance reports show that while he is handily outraising the Democratic field, he is struggling to come even close to what he raised in his first race.
By this time in 2010, Baker had just over $2 million in his campaign account, almost three times what he has now.