The race to be the next US Senator from Massachusetts is about to start in earnest and all signs (including a tweet that says “Yes. Get ready.”) suggest that former Senator Scott Brown will run again. With the impending race hanging over his head, Scott Brown turned to twitter this past weekend to take on some critics. In a series of confrontational tweets, he responded to those who disagree with him with thoughtful argument after thoughtful argument. One tweeter was dismissed with the word “whatever.” Another got a similarly dismissive comment and, finally, he dismissed all of his critics with the single, powerful word: “Bqhatevwr.” Over the past few days, the tweets have been removed from his twitter feed and the word has attracted ridicule from foe and foe alike. My point is not to speculate as to what motivated Brown’s tweet or clear misspelling. My point is that the frustration evident in the tweets is connected to the reasons he lost to Elizabeth Warren and the reasons I think he is likely to lose again this time.
Scott Brown rode a wave of good feeling to his victory over Martha Coakley. The combination of barn coat, truck and plain speaking struck home with the voters in the Massachusetts special election. For a brief time after his election, he was, party notwithstanding, the most popular politician in the Commonwealth. When now Senator Elizabeth Warren entered the race, she faced an uphill road to election. When she won by a large margin she did so not because she rode the President’s coattails, but because her campaign and the debates revealed Brown’s tendency to “bqhatevwr.” The nice independent guy image did not survive the campaign, and, without his barn coat, Brown is a very beatable man.
Successful republicans in Massachusetts either ride personality (Weld) or good luck in opponents (Romney) to victory. In his first race, Brown had the best of both worlds. In his second, he faced an opponent who improved dramatically during her months on the campaign trail. Her rambling answers became focused and so did her message. In response, Brown went at her with ferocity. His attack on her past claims of Native American heritage defined the debate moderated by Jon Keller and left him looking aggressive rather than nice. In another debate, he struggled to identify a “model Supreme Court justice,” looking as he answered like the kid who (despite studying) only remembered part of the answer to the test question. His response to her claims that he did not adequately support women’s rights was that he is a good husband and father. The combination of these performances led Brown to avoid a final debate and resulted in a margin of victory for Warren that defied even optimistic Democratic estimates.
On the other side of that defeat, GOP folks said it just proved that you can’t win against the Democratic “machine.” That statement requires the belief that Scott Brown is a good candidate for the US Senate. Prior to the campaign he lost, I thought that was true. In other words, I looked at his victory over Coakley and thought it suggested a real political gift. I do not think that any more. Instead, I think that Scott Brown is a very lucky man whose luck has run out. He won a race thanks to personality and a weak opponent. He won his party’s nomination because all the others in party who might have run thought it a losing battle. When he lost to Elizabeth Warren he did so because the race cast doubt on his personality (he seemed mean) and because she was a very strong candidate.
This time around I do not think it will be that close. Neither Ed Markey nor Steve Lynch have personalities that will set the world on fire. Both, however, are lifelong public servants with deeply held, principled beliefs. Scott Brown’s independence seems more about not wanting to lose than believing in something. He has already challenged Markey’s claim of Massachusetts residency. In so doing, Brown reminded all of us of how he dealt with Senator Warren. He already has the coat off and is throwing punches. When we elected him the first time, we didn’t elect a combative man. Now that we know that is who he is, we are unlikely to elect him again. Last weekend on twitter, that’s the guy we saw. He sat down and started taking people on — Bqhatevwr.