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Our One-Hundredth: Insert Brown Pun Here…

Senate Seal (wikipedia)

With the 2012 campaign underway, albeit somewhat passively, it seems appropriate for us to begin looking into the races (and THE race) that will define the 2012 campaign.    However, any discussion of Congressional races is up in the air pending redistricting, which could either be kind or cruel to Western Massachusetts.  As such we only have the Senate race in Massachusetts and, for now, the Republican nomination for president.  For Senate coverage, look for the “Our One-Hundredth” and for President look for “The 2012 Steps.”

Today, as the title suggests, we are talking about the Senate race.  Normally at this stage Brown posts would be limited to stand-alone postings with self-proclaimed clever puns on his name alone, but given recent events it seems the race has undeniably begun.  The hint?  Brown told David Koch, yes that David Koch, that he was “already banging away” for the 2012 year. 

Mayor Warren (Facebook)
What also opened the Senate race floodgates were the movements of some potential Democratic challengers to Brown.  Newton Mayor Setti Warren, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and Somerville Congressman Mike Capuano are right now the lead maybes.  Bob Massie, a Somerville activist has already announced and Alan Khazei, who ran in the 2009-10 special is also a possibility.  The dream candidate of the left would be Elizabeth Warren, presently a special assistant to Pres. Obama to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Commission.  Other possibilities are Cong. Ed Markey of Malden and Cong. Stephen Lynch of Boston.  The former has lots of seniority he would have to sacrifice and the latter voted against the Health Care Act (it did not reform enough for him), which dimmed his light among many in the party.

Another poll released recently showed Brown with great approval ratings and comfortable margins over potential challengers.  However, the most telling part of that poll, conducted by Western New England College, was that most of the Demographic challengers had poor name recognition.

Cong. Capuano (Facebook)
Capuano has the tenacity to take on Brown and his truck.  While he had been called rough around the edges and a comment at a union rally drew rebukes (this was before the WI GOP exposed their plot as purely political), Capuano does have an everyman approach and, more importantly, an eye to compromise.  He, unlike many Democrats, often found himself defending his Health Care Law vote from the left.  Capuano, like all of the likely candidates, is from the east, but he might be able to appeal to the west better than the others.  However, Capuano found difficulty gaining traction during his run to succeed Edward Kennedy in the Senate against  Martha Coakley.

Setti Warren offers an intriguing challenge because of his military experience and time as a staffer for both Bill Clinton and John Kerry.  However, in addition to not being well-known, Setti Warren has only been in office 15 months.  He was elected in 2009 and is Newton’s first black mayor.  Were he to become a senator, he would become the second African-American elected to the Senate from Massachusetts after Edward Brooke.  Still, Warren’s brief time as mayor could hurt him, where he would need the most support: Newton.  Few politicians’ home base likes officials leapfrogging to new seats midway through their first term (we criticized Obama back in ’08, but Illinois did not seem to care).  Warren may better serve his interests by waiting for Kerry’s retirement or even Barney Frank’s and start off in Congress.

Driscoll is also a possible candidates, but being Salem’s mayor is not like being Newton’s what with Newton’s insane wealth and powerful Democratic politicians (Barney Frank calls Newton home).  Plus, Driscoll has very young children and a grueling campaign (at least in 2012) could be very hard on her family.

Sen. Brown (wikipedia)
But why are we even talking about this?  We have already laid out how the Democrats are in trouble lacking a name that resonates with voters.  Scott Brown is apparently beloved by Bay Staters (interestingly polls show similar approval of John Kerry).  What are we doing here?

Well, David Koch notwithstanding (which was somewhat reported), there is another terribly under reported story that involved our junior Senator.  You may recall that the House and Senate have agreed to, yet another stopgap budget resolution while the remainder of FY2011 get hammered out.  However, the House did pass a resolution for the remainder of the year, which included $61 billion in draconian discretionary non-security/defense cuts and several arch-conservative wish list items.  That resolution along with a Democratic alternative, could not pass the Senate.  However, Brown did vote to pass the House version.

Well let’s forget that the $61 billion was an obscene amount from an area of the budget largely not responsible for the deficit (and pitifully unable to correct it).  It prohibited any money be used to implement the Health Care Law (a restriction that would only make implementation more difficult and with poor results, not actually stop it) eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, cut Tsunami warning systems and end all money for Planned Parenthood.  The last one is of particular interest to us.

The right charged that funding for Planned Parenthood had to stop because it effectively enabled the organization to use its other funds for abortion.  Republicans said it was a way around the Hyde Amendment, which bans any federal money from being used for abortion absent rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s life.  The House’s ban on Planned Parenthood covers a wide gamut of women’s health services from cancer screenings, birth control, pregnancy testing and disease testing.
Jeff Perry (wikipedia)
Some critics have charged that Brown has been cavalier about women’s issues before.  The most notable example may be his staunch defense of GOP candidate for the 10th Massachusetts District, Jeff Perry.  Perry was the sergeant of a Wareham cop that sexually assaulted two teenage girls while in police custody.  Perry resigned from the police department days after the offending officer was indicted.  The issue resurfaced when Brown claimed in his new book that he was sexually abused by a camp counselor as a child.  The parallels were not lost on Bay State media.
Now it would be irredeemably trite to say that Scott Brown is indifferent to women’s health or even worse is a misogynist.  That is absurd.  After all, Brown’s wife, mother and daughters are all, incidentally, women.  Brown may have minimal cover on the issue as both Maine Senators and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, all women and pro-women’s health, voted for the House version, too.  However, all three expressed concerns about the scope of the House’s budget and described their votes as messaging or protests against the entire budget process.  Murkowski, somewhat to right of both Senators Snowe and Collins, condemned the Planned Parenthood cuts specifically.

Brown’s statement failed to telegraph any similar sentiment, “While I don’t agree with how the House prioritized its spending or cuts, I do believe that significant spending reductions and reforms are needed to bring fiscal discipline and strong management to Washington.”  Brown does register some disagreement with the House, but not in any significant way.  Noting that no areas are safe from cuts, Brown failed to mention that the House resolution leaves defense and security excesses untouched.  This statement should have gone a lot farther if he really meant it…or really connected to the real-world impact of the House’s cuts.
Sen. Brown in THE truck (wikipedia)
No, Brown is not a misogynist.  However, his position on the House budget (whatever the problems with procedure and the fact that everyone knew it would not pass) raises a different suggestion.  One that belies his most storied image: that everyman quality.  Scott Brown is far wealthier than most Bay Staters.  He is poor by Senate standards, but definitely above-average comfortable for the rest of us.  His legal business did well, even as he was  state senator and his wife, Gail Huff, probably made a decent living when she worked for WCVB in Boston (and she has a part-time gig at DC’s WJLA, an ABC affiliate).  His daughters attended top tier schools and he owns, however mortgaged, several Boston investment properties and built a home in Rye, N.H.  One Boston condo is strangely in his daughter’s name.  Plus his book?  HarperCollins, his publisher and a piece of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, almost certainly paid him well.

Wealth is not in itself a disqualifying factor (certainly it should not have been in last year’s election to succeed well-known blue-collar Ted Kennedy).  And John Kerry is no stranger to money either (though almost all of it belongs to Teresa).  However, when put up against this paradigm of truck-driving, barn jacket wearing guy down the street, the image comes apart.  It is all the more damaged by the Perry dust-up and then the House budget, oh and the tax cuts for the wealthy.  If nothing else, in a state like Massachusetts, Brown should have mentioned something at the time he voted like how essential women’s health services had been cut.

Ayla Brown’s Album (wikipedia)
Does Scott Brown care about women in general (and not just his family)?  He probably does.  However, to be most kind, it does expose a compelling disconnect between Brown and everyday women.  Neither Brown nor his family would ever need to go to Planned Parenthood or any public health clinic for cervical cancer screenings or mammograms.  They have health insurance, private doctors and the money to purchase these services out of pocket, if necessary.  Ayla, who attended Boston College probably has some money leftover from her recording contract and American Idol.

It is not surprising that Brown’s numbers of good.  Any politician in Massachusetts is probably doing better than most as the commonwealth weathered the recession better than most, even Springfield.  However, in addition to the relative anonymity of leading Democratic challengers, Brown has not, himself, been very challenged.  As we said in February, his bipartisan moments were shared by many Republicans (DADT, START II) or were tarnished by his special interest shilling (Wall Street Reform).  The impending campaign ads will be the ones that remind us of his more partisan moments, particularly the ones where he sided with millionaires and against the unemployed and poor or even middle-class women.

Still as we have said, Brown has a sizable war chest and some time to correct these inequitable votes with less wicked ones.  In the end, however, Brown may need to do more than let admirers see and touch his truck to show them he is “one of them.”  With $6 million in the bank and counting, Brown should not have trouble filling his gas tank to give rides to voters who are otherwise intimidated by gas prices…or trying to flee an undetected tsunami.