NEWTON -- State Senator Scott P. Brown, a telegenic triathlete and military lawyer who has won nine consecutive elections since the mid-1980s, tonight won an easy victory in the Republican primary for US Senate, launching him on an uphill battle to become the first Republican to represent Massachusetts in the United States Senate in 30 years.
Brown, one of just five Republicans in the 40-member state Senate, faces significant challenges: he is less well-known than the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Martha Coakley; he is a Republican in an overwhelmingly liberal state; and the six weeks until the final election include the Christmas and New Year's season when it will be difficult to get voters' attention.
Just 11 percent of the state's registered voters are Republicans. But Democrats are taking nothing for granted.
"He’s an attractive, articulate, moderate Republican who could tap into some of the unrest among voters,'' said Philip W. Johnston, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. "It would be a terrible mistake for Democrats to assume that this election is in the bag on Jan. 19. These are not normal times. There are treacherous winds blowing and Democratic candidates have to be aware of that."
Brown, a 50-year-old attorney who grew up in Wakefield and now lives in Wrentham, presents a stark contrast with Coakley. He supports President Obama’s plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan; she does not. He opposes the creation of a government-run health insurance option as part of a proposed overhaul of health care; she supports the so-called "public option." He also opposes so-called "cap-and-trade" legislation to reduce greenhouses gasses, calling it a job killer; she supports the approach.
On social issues, he supports abortion rights, and opposes same-sex marriage, which is legal in Massachusetts but controversial in much of the rest of the country. Unlike some of his fellow Massachusetts Republicans, he has spoken out forcefully against same-sex marriage, supporting a Constitutional amendment to ban such unions, and he has opposed the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
In the Legislature, Brown has also labored unsuccessfully to lower the state income-tax rate, a proposal long opposed by Democratic leaders.
Democrats said they are anticipating a spirited campaign from the senator, a 30-year member of the Massachusetts National Guard who is a lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General's Corps.
Though Republicans are a sparse minority in Massachusetts, Brown could do well if he can harness the anti-establishment sentiment that has been percolating among voters nationwide and that helped propel Republican governors to recent victories in New Jersey and Virginia, political observers said.
"You’ve got this unusual new dynamic among the voters this year -- the natives are definitely restless -- so it’s hard to tell what kind of mood they will be in on January 19," said Barbara Anderson, executive director of the anti-tax group Citizens for Limited Taxation.
"He’s a good campaigner, he’s got that JAG (Judge Advocate General's Corps) coolness, and he’s very presentable, seems to get along well with people, and he’s got the fiscal conservative credentials and socially moderate stances that people in this state vote for," she said. "If it’s the beginning of the revolution year, Scott has a chance."
Brown, who boasts that he can run two miles in just over 13 minutes, garnered some notoriety at age 22, in 1982, by posing nude for an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine about "America's Sexiest Man." But his family members are even better-known -- one of his daughters, Ayla, was a finalist on "American Idol’’ in 2006 and is a four-year starter on the basketball team at Boston College. And Brown’s wife of 23 years, Gail Huff, is a veteran reporter at WCVB-TV. The couple also have another daughter, Arianna, a freshman at Syracuse University.
Tonight, at the Boston Marriott Newton, about 150 Brown supporters burst into applause and cheers when his campaign manager, Beth Lindstrom, took the stage to announce that Brown had won the primary. "Isn't that great?'' she said. "They called it for Scott!" Supporters, snacking on crudités and other appetizers and sipping wine and beer while rock and country music played on a sound system, later sang "God Bless America'' in a ballroom with signs reading "Bold New Leadership."
During the primary, Brown largely ignored his Republican opponent, Duxbury businessman Jack E. Robinson, and focused his criticism on the Democratic candidates.
The last Republican to represent Massachusetts in the Senate was Edward W. Brooke, who was defeated in 1978 by Paul Tsongas. Brown is now running to hold a seat held for 47 years by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, often called the liberal lion of the Senate.
"The seat is Kennedy's and a lot of Brown's positions are to the right of the Massachusetts electorate," said Marc Landy, a political scientist at Boston College, who said flatly that Brown "won't win."
But several political analysts said that Brown's Senate candidacy could help his political career, even if he loses, because it will raise his profile. Landy and other observers said the senator could be well positioned to turn around and run for any number of statewide offices, such as attorney general, auditor or treasurer. In 1988, Joe Malone raised his visibility running against Kennedy; two years later he won a race for state treasurer; in 1994, Mitt Romney ran unsuccessfully against Kennedy, and in 2002 he was elected governor.
"I think that’s the silver lining in the usual political cloud for Republicans, which is you might not have a chance against a Kennedy or Kerry but you can run for an office you’re more likely to win," Anderson said.
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