WASHINGTON — The signs are mounting. Scott Brown travels almost weekly to New Hampshire. Last month he formed a political action committee there to raise funds; this week he attacked the state’s Democratic senator on his favorite target: national health care.
Now national Republicans are pushing the former Massachusetts senator to declare his candidacy for the US Senate from New Hampshire. And they insist, despite mixed signals from Brown, that he is seriously weighing such a run.
The chairman and vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and Rob Portman of Ohio, said they have urged Brown to take on Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who is otherwise expected to cruise to reelection next year.
It could be risky for the national party to rely on a candidate who carefully built his reputation as the regular guy from Massachusetts. But with other major potential candidates from New Hampshire bowing out, senior Washington Republicans believe Brown may be the GOP’s best hope.
“He knows of our interest in him pursuing this,” said Moran, who as head of the party’s election efforts controls millions of dollars in assistance for Senate candidates.
Moran dismissed speculation that Brown has merely been flirting with a run.
“I don’t think Scott Brown is just fooling around,” he said.
Moran said Brown has not given him a timetable for his decision, but he added that, with the yearlong countdown to the 2014 election starting this week, the GOP is eager to have its candidates in place soon.
Brown has remained coy, showing up frequently at events in the state and taking pointed shots at Shaheen while declining to reveal his intentions. For months he has been emphasizing his family ties to New Hampshire and his vacation home in the coastal community of Rye. He put his Massachusetts home in Wrentham on the market in late September.
“It’d be great to have him back,” Portman said this week, acknowledging his own conversations with Brown. “He needs to make a personal decision. I just don’t know where he is on it.”
The NRSC’s communications director, Brad Dayspring, said in an e-mail that running Brown against Shaheen “would give New Hampshire voters the choice they desperately seek to hold her accountable.”
Former representative Charles F. Bass, who was one of the last potential GOP threats to Shaheen, said Monday he would not run against her, telling reporters that Brown would be the strongest candidate.
Over the past weekend Brown endorsed small-town mayoral candidates in Rochester and Somersworth. On Tuesday he sent an e-mail attacking Shaheen to the New Hampshire Union Leader, saying she misled constituents when she voted in favor of President Obama’s health care law.
Health care is the same issue Brown emphasized in his successful 2010 special election victory against Attorney General Martha Coakley, which allowed him to serve in the Senate before he was defeated by Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, last year. Obama’s rocky rollout of the health law could give Brown an opening if it continues to remain unpopular.
Brown is a paid commentator on Fox News, and the public political dabbling undoubtedly raises interest in his appearances. On Wednesday, when Brown was asked on Fox & Friends whether he had made up his mind about New Hampshire, he gave a nonresponsive answer about his role of traveling the country to help fill the “void of leadership.”
“He’s keeping everyone guessing, but at the expense of making people wonder whether he’s serious or not,” said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
Cullen said he believes Republicans would embrace a Brown candidacy, especially because there are no high-profile candidates yet in the race. So far, Jim Rubens, a former state senator, and Karen Testerman, a conservative activist, have said they would seek the nomination in the state’s primary on Sept. 9.
Six months of frequent visits to the state by Brown have done nothing but confuse people, Cullen said.
Brown seems to be lacking a clear strategy in choosing public events and has yet to call opinion leaders, party leaders, or other influential people, Cullen said.
In August, Brown, in an American flag T-shirt, took the stage at a Cheap Trick concert at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom and played guitar with the band.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s been any rhyme or reason to his engagement in New Hampshire,” said Jim Merrill, a political consultant who served as Mitt Romney’s chief adviser for the state.
“If he’s serious about New Hampshire, he should get serious about that and begin to wage an active campaign,” Merrill said. “His approach has left some people a little cool to him. Having said that, there is a pent-up enthusiasm in favor of a strong challenge to Senator Shaheen.”
An editorial in the Union Leader in late September complained that Brown’s entrees were merely helping Shaheen raise money and called on Brown to “make his intentions clear or turn his big, brown eyes elsewhere.”
“The ladies love his flirting, it is true, but the one who loves it the most is Jeanne Shaheen,” the paper wrote. “Every time he bats an eye, she cashes a check.”
Brown did not return phone calls, an e-mail, or a text message. His former campaign strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, said in an e-mail he is no longer working for Brown. Others were doubtful that Brown has any paid advisers currently working for him. Earlier this year, Brown took the remaining funds from his Senate campaign and rolled them into his federal political committee, which is separate from the New Hampshire committee he formed in October.
With all the speculation, Brown has generated an almost Sarah Palin-like wake of publicity and ambiguity from his trail of appearances.
Palin, after her defeat in 2008 as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee, managed to keep her Tea Party admirers and the media in suspense over whether she would again run for office. She traveled widely, dropping hints that she would run for president, without ruling herself in or out.
Brown drew national attention at the Iowa State Fair in August, gobbling a corn dog and announcing interest in a potential presidential run. He’s planning a return visit to the state, site of the first presidential caucuses, in the coming weeks, according to Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican who does not think Brown is running for president.
“No, his wife’s from Winterset,” Grassley said, explaining away Brown’s visits as little more than gatherings with the in-laws.
But Grassley said that he would like to see Brown run for the Senate.
“Whether he’s running for senator of Massachusetts or New Hampshire or Iowa, a person like him needs to be encouraged to pursue public office,” Grassley said.
Other senators said they still exchange text messages with Brown and have seen him at least once at the Senate GOP’s weekly strategy lunches led by majority leader Mitch McConnell. Still, not all of them are up to date on their former colleague.
Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia stopped himself mid-sentence when asked whether Brown should run for Senate in New Hampshire.
“He’d be a great one — in New Hampshire?” Isakson said. “Well, he doesn’t live in New Hampshire. Does he?”
The Constitution requires only that a senator be living in the state when elected.
Shaheen, meanwhile, has been trying to shore up her support in a state known to swing between the two parties, acting as one of the loudest Democratic critics of the implementation of Obama’s health law. She voted for it but has called on Obama to delay the requirement that individuals buy insurance.
In the Senate this week, she told a reporter that her critique of the law is not politically motivated.
A moment later, when asked about Brown, she said she knew nothing beyond what she had been reading in the news. But unlike Republican activists, she was in no hurry to hear Brown’s decision.
“It’s a long time between now and the election,” she said.