Scott Brown’s triumphant makeover

The Massachusetts senator has pulled ahead of Elizabeth Warren in the polls by running away from the Tea Party

Topics: 2012 Elections, Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren,

Scott Brown's triumphant makeoverU.S. Senator Scott Brown (Credit: Hyungwon Kang / Reuters)

The so-called People’s Pledge seemed like a somewhat gimmicky win-win proposition for both incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger, Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, in their race for the seat once held by Ted Kennedy. The idea, proposed by Brown, was to staunch the flow of super PAC money into the race with an agreement of elegant simplicity: If a candidate is attacked by name in an ad, then the one who comes off looking better is obliged to donate half the cost of the ad buy to a charity of the other candidate’s choice. Pretty simple: Why shoot yourself in the foot, right?

The trick in the gimmick became clear this week when Brown announced that he was holding up his end of the pledge, agreeing to pay half the costs of an ad from a group called Coalition of Americans for Political Equality (CAPE PAC) and asking it to pull its Google ads promoting him. The group’s website is now offline. Jeff Loyd, a Tea Party activist from Arizona who chairs the PAC, confirmed that his group spent all of $673.99 in pro-Brown online advertising with Google.

Brown’s ostentatious willingness to be the first to trigger the enforcement mechanism against himself displays a street-smart opportunism that the Warren camp, for all her populist credentials, lacks. Far from shooting himself in the foot, the penalty amounts to $327 out of the $13 million in his campaign coffers. It was money well spent to help burnish his image as a moderate and man of the people, even as he raises more than $2 for Warren’s every $1. (Warren has raised $6 million to date.)

“Sen. Brown is a man of his word,” Brown’s campaign manager, Jim Barnett, trumpeted in a letter to CAPE PAC. “And as a result of your advertising on his behalf, he will honor the agreement by paying out of his campaign account an amount equal to 50 percent of your spending. In short,” the letter continued, “while your advertising on his behalf is clearly intended to be helpful, it is actually costing his campaign valuable resources.”



CAPE PAC’s Loyd said he killed the ads reluctantly at Brown’s request.

“We regret the candidates in this race are asking for groups like ours to suspend our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms to campaign in support of whatever candidates we choose,” he said. “However, we respect the wishes of our supporters and as such will honor their requests to suspend our advertising campaign in support of Senator Brown.”

The statement from Brown’s campaign stressed that this was the very first time that either candidate had taken tangible action to enforce the pledge: “Notably, two pro-Warren groups, ReThinkBrown and BoldProgressives, also ran Google ads after the signing of the historic People’s Pledge,” it added pointedly, putting Warren on the defensive.

The Warren campaign seemed to be slightly caught off guard by the GOP attempt to co-opt the money-in-politics issue. It found itself in the unenviable position of having to acknowledge Brown’s move to honor the pledge, even while defending itself against a cheap shot thrown late.

“To the best of our knowledge, those ads [bought by ReThinkBrown and Bold Progressives] were run prior to the [Jan. 23] pledge and were taken down almost immediately,” Warren spokeswoman Alethea Harney told Salon. “We’ve asked Warren supporters to provide us with suggestions for the charity,” she added.

Defanging Warren on her big issue — money in politics — is a smart tactic for a Republican looking to get reelected in the most liberal state in the country. By not acting like a Republican, and sometimes reaching across the aisle, Brown has stood out as a voice of reason in the GOP wilderness who sticks with his party only 54 percent of his time, according to a Congressional Quarterly study of his 2011 voting record.

After an initial burst of enthusiasm that launched Warren’s campaign with great fanfare last fall, the Brown campaign has eclipsed her. Warren, who was leading a few weeks ago, now trails by 9 and 10 points, according to two recent polls. By compromising with the president now and then, and distancing himself from the Tea Party movement that swept him into office, Brown never misses a chance to tout his record as a flexible pragmatist. All mention of the Tea Party has been scrubbed from his site.

While Brown voted against tax hikes on the rich, he has gone against the GOP grain by backing a sweeping bill to curb insider trading by members of Congress; Republican leaders favored a narrower bill. He also supported the Obama administration’s plan to allow homeowners to refinance their mortgages if they are “underwater,” owing more than what their homes are worth.

At the same time, Brown has sided with Big Oil consistently and supported an effort by fellow Republicans to ban the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases linked to global warming. Most egregiously, he stood squarely with the Senate GOP on contraception, co-sponsoring the narrowly defeated Blunt Amendment that would have permitted employers and insurers to restrict access to birth control.

Yet this proved to be a safe gamble in Massachusetts with its large number of Roman Catholics who use birth control faithfully. Even if most parishioners who make it to the pews each Sunday believe insurers should offer contraception in their employee healthcare benefits package, they don’t mind if their senator takes the same stand that’s preached from the pulpit. That issue, stalking Romney through the primaries, has not hurt Brown much, even after Brown was roundly condemned by the Kennedy clan for misrepresenting his predecessor’s position on contraception.

Brown’s new persona was on display last week when he told a group of military veterans on the north shore of Boston a colorful tale about how he managed to get Obama on board with his insider trading bill by calling out to the president after his State of the Union speech.

“The whole row cleared out and, therefore, I actually get to walk up right next to the aisle as the president’s coming up, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Man! He wants an insider trading bill. I have one,’” Brown told the vets. “So I said, ‘Mr. President, my insider trading bill is on Harry Reid’s desk. Tell him to get it out.’ And he looked right at me and he says, ‘I will. I’ll tell him to get it out.’ Problem was he was miked up live with Fox.”

Brown boasted dubiously that the exchange brought the bill to the Senate floor where it passed, proof, he said, that he “gets things done.” It’s a winning strategy for a Republican in Massachusetts, and he only needs to look at his latest polling numbers, which show him leading among independents, voters under 50, voters over 65, and in central and western Massachusetts, according to the most recent survey from Western New England University.

The departure of Maine’s GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe, the most bipartisan member of Congress, also served to boost Brown, as she gave him a ringing endorsement on Thursday. ”In an institution characterized by gridlock and partisanship, Scott Brown is a much-needed breath of fresh air,” Snowe said in a statement.

As Brown bobs and weaves to the center, Warren has to figure out how to lay a glove on him. She hasn’t done so in a while.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>