NASHUA — Seeking at once to burnish his Granite State credentials and make the US Senate election in New Hampshire a referendum on the president, Republican Scott Brown on Monday campaigned with two of the most popular politicians in the state’s recent history.
Flanked by US Senators Kelly Ayotte and John McCain at a veterans hall rally, Brown branded Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen “the number one partisan senator” and called on supporters to give him at least two hours a day of volunteer time over the final week until the election.
“We have an opportunity to change history, to change the direction of our country, to right the ship,” potentially giving Republicans the Senate majority, Brown said. “Do not waste this opportunity to send a message to Washington.”
As much as the words, the message was in the visual, just two days after US Senator Elizabeth Warren campaigned for Shaheen in New Hampshire and criticized former nemesis Brown for deciding to “pack up his pickup truck and move” across state lines to run again after losing his US Senate seat to her in 2012.
Now here was Brown, standing elbow-to-elbow in a crowded Nashua veterans hall with former colleagues Ayotte, the increasingly popular junior senator from New Hampshire, and McCain, the Arizona senator who twice won New Hampshire’s presidential primary and remains revered by many Republican and independent voters here.
The marquee outside Nashua’s James E. Coffey American Legion Post 3 put McCain first — “WELCOME SEN MCCAIN / SEN AYOTTE / SEN BROWN” — and McCain and Ayotte each spoke twice as long as Brown did, from a lectern beneath an American flag and framed by a jukebox and Christmas lights. When Brown climbed back into his familiar green pickup, now with a “Live Free or Die” license plate, McCain stayed for another 20 minutes, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
On a day when Shaheen campaigned in New Hampshire’s lakes region and north country – including a chili dinner in Laconia with Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland and union firefighters – Brown joined up in the southern part of the state with McCain, whose mutual affection with the state stretches back a decade and a half.
“I love my state of Arizona more than anything, but I can tell you, I love this state in a way that’s hard to describe,” said McCain, who by all counts has held more town hall-style meetings in New Hampshire than Ayotte and Brown combined.
With smoke lingering in the air and Halloween cobwebs draped around support beams, Brown and his wife, Gail Huff, arrived first, greeting those at the bar with jokes about joining them for a beer and small talk about Sunday’s Patriots game, thanking them for their volunteer efforts. When McCain arrived, the center of gravity in the room seemed to shift, with people pressing in close for handshakes and photographs, and a BBC reporter asking the Arizona senator about the meaning of his return to “McCain Country.”
They worked their way to the lectern, where Ayotte called Brown “that independent voice that we need for the state of New Hampshire” and someone who understands “how to keep the country safe” and protect veterans.
McCain began with a nostalgia trip, thanking old friends and unfurling some of the same time-tested jokes he used in 2000 and 2008. “Harry Truman once said, if you want a friend in Washington, go out and buy a dog,” he said, updating the bit to note that Ayotte had become a true friend.
McCain lauded Brown with superlatives, calling him “the main attraction, this great and honorable man who is a very dear friend of mine.”
Like Ayotte, he avoided mentioning Shaheen by name – both may need to work with her again – but called Brown the right choice to help address problems in the veterans health care system and reverse what he called “a feckless foreign policy.”
Brown hailed both, calling McCain a “national hero” and recalling a time when he joined them in signing a letter to the president requesting that a “transition force” be left in Iraq instead of a full withdrawal. He criticized Shaheen for being soft on foreign policy and voting consistently with the Democratic leadership, too often canceling out what Brown called the “courageous” votes of Ayotte.
“If you’re happy with the direction that we’re going [in] right now, then you should vote for Jeanne Shaheen,” he said, drawing a chorus of no’s and an emphatic catcall.
The crowd pressed in close around both but especially around McCain. They included people like Edward Anzalone, a Vietnam veteran with a handlebar mustache who wore a Brown shirt but thanked McCain for his heroism, and Charles Poltack, a Naval Academy graduate whose wife, Nancy, clutched a Brown sticker.
As Brown and Huff got into the truck outside, they mostly ignored the matching truck across the street – decorated with crossed-out “Scott Brown/Massachusetts” signs and symbolic Koch brothers oil drums – and a young man dressed as a king, who told Brown he was here for his “secret meeting,” a nod to Brown’s old quote claiming “secret meetings with kings and queens.”
Inside, McCain continued to work the crowd.
“Now look, one more mission: Get the vote out for Brown,” he told a group of Vietnam veterans near the door, adding one last joke as he walked down the stairs. “I will have drones watching you.”Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.