“To Brown's credit, he doesn't pander. He doesn't tell them what they want to hear or deny his past positions. Even more surprisingly, he tells a room full of conservatives and libertarians that if he's elected to the Senate, he'll go back to Washington and try to work with Democrats.”
By James Oliphant, National Journal
June 7, 2014
It's the monthly meeting of the Gun Owners of New Hampshire, a group in which fear of the United Nations and talk of impeaching President Obama for treason are part of the normal course of business. Brown is viewed with deep suspicion among this crowd, largely because after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in 2012, he advocated banning assault weapons.
To Brown's credit, he doesn't pander. He doesn't tell them what they want to hear or deny his past positions. Even more surprisingly, he tells a room full of conservatives and libertarians that if he's elected to the Senate, he'll go back to Washington and try to work with Democrats.
He reminds the crowd that, like it or not, he's their best shot to unseat the Democratic incumbent, Jeanne Shaheen, and restore the Senate to GOP control. Shaheen, he adds pointedly, "would never come here and look you in the eye and ask you to keep an open mind."
Throughout it all, though, Brown never appears rattled. Instead, he seems determined not to let them win, telling the group that he'll stand there and answer questions all night if he has to. He'll work the problem to death. That's all he knows. "You think this is hard?" he asks at one point. "Being a Republican from Massachusetts is hard. Living in 17 homes, getting the shit kicked out of you, that's hard." Nobody really knows what to say to that.
Like many politicians—Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to name just two—Brown finds power in the personal. The tale of his triumph over poverty, indifferent parents, sexual predators, and bullying stepfathers is so potent that Brown published a searing memoir during his time in the Senate that pulled few punches. (One passage describes how he was tempted to buy the former home of his abusive stepfather just so he could burn it to the ground.) And as he showed at the Holiday Inn, he does not shy away from talking about it.
Small rooms fit Brown best. He's not a born orator—and he doesn't come preloaded with talk-radio software, like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. Neither is he into pledges and promises. (He wouldn't sign one at the gun meeting.) He operates, as someone here told me, like he always has—as a person who lives by his wits, minute by minute, never thinking too far ahead. The skills that saved him as a boy.
In recent years, New Hampshire has shed its reputation as an outpost for flap-hatted, shotgun-carrying, live-free-or-die types. Like Brown himself, Massachusetts residents have swarmed across the border, transforming the state into one that swings wildly between Democratic and Republican majorities. Its two senators—one a Republican, one a Democrat—are both viewed as loyal partisans. And the state Legislature in recent years has oscillated between Democratic and Republican control.
Brown is holding himself out as an old-school independent actor, a politician determined to chart his own zig-zaggy course in Washington. And in truth, while serving in the Senate, Brown did rile GOP leaders at times by siding with the Democrats. In 2011 and 2012, he voted with his party 66 percent of the time, while his opponent, Shaheen, voted with hers 96 percent of the time, according to The Washington Post. Brown "has proven himself independent of voters, independent of his party. That's representative of what New Hampshirites are," says Joe Maloy. "I think he gets it. I think he truly understands the New Hampshire difference."
Brown is also seeking to exploit the flaws in the Affordable Care Act—and there are reasons to think the issue may have more traction here than in other races. Access to health care has become a significant worry. There is only one insurer on the state exchange, and a significant percentage of the state's hospitals—10 of 26—are not in the network. This has translated into canceled policies, farther trips, and longer waiting times for patients, Brown's campaign argues.
It was just a few days after Mother's Day, and the crowd was warmed up by former state Sen. Julie Brown (no relation), who told a story about how Brown had just spent time repainting his mother's house—pretty much a standard-issue campaign anecdote about the Good Son.
But something in Brown felt the need to correct the record and do so publicly—like someone still trying to put all the puzzle pieces of his life in the right places. As he took the lectern, he noted that, in fact, only in the last year had his long-strained relationship with his mother begun to really improve. "For the first time in my life," Brown told the gathering of largely middle-aged women, "she actually said she loved me."