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Brown showcases his conservative leanings

By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / January 10, 2010

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State Senator Scott P. Brown laughed last week when a national media personality asked him to elaborate on his politics: By describing himself as a fiscal conservative and an independent, did Brown mean to suggest he’s a social liberal?

“No,’’ Brown chuckled in the radio interview. “I’m not known as a social liberal, that’s for sure.’’

The inquiring host was Sean Hannity, host of Fox News Network’s “Hannity,’’ who - like other conservatives across the country - was suddenly showering Brown with attention. A poll had just indicated that Brown was within striking distance of his Democratic rival to succeed the late Edward M. Kennedy, suggesting the tantalizing possibility of upending the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the US Senate and derailing the health care overhaul from Kennedy’s home turf.

In liberal Massachusetts, the moderate Brown tends not to advertise his status as a minority Republican. Just try to find his party designation on his campaign website.

But as he basks in the national limelight and appeals to independent-minded voters - many of whom are disenchanted with the economy, disgruntled with national health care overhaul, and dismayed by another near brush with terrorism - he is happily highlighting his more conservative leanings. Last week he embraced waterboarding. Last month he expressed skepticism that climate change is being caused by humans. He has even denounced two national proposals that he supported in Massachusetts as a lawmaker - mandatory health care coverage and a cap-and-trade system to cut global warming gases.

“I think he is moving to the right,’’ said Marion Just, a political science professor at Wellesley College.

He seems to be looking more to the Tea Party protesters than to the traditional Republican base here in the state, Just said. “But that’s where the enthusiasm seems to lie.’’

To be sure, the 30-year National Guardsman from Wrentham would never have been called a social liberal. Long a foe of gay marriage and a “tax-and-spend mentality,’’ Brown calls himself a social moderate, and his work in the Legislature has focused on issues such as tightening restrictions on sex offenders.

“Scott Brown is running in the name of every independent-thinking citizen, whether they be Democrat, unenrolled-independent or Republican, to take on one-party rule, and the Beacon Hill bosses, and their candidate,’’ Brown’s US Senate campaign said in a prepared statement. “He doesn’t take his orders from either of the political parties. He has always spoken his mind and acted in the best interests of the people.’’

Todd Domke, a Republican analyst, said he views Brown as seizing on a national moment and trying to turn it into sustained momentum.

“I just think it happens to be that the issues have brought out his conservative side. He’s obviously moderate on many things, so I don’t think it’s a deliberate overall strategy,’’ said Domke. “It just so happens that the issues most timely have produced a fairly conservative reaction from most people - the idea that we’d better be more serious about going after domestic terrorism and that the stimulus has obviously failed and that the health care bill is a potential disaster.’’

Brown - who initially was receptive to the national health care plan - now pledges to be the 41st vote against it in the Senate. He says he objects to the bill because Massachusetts - where almost all citizens now have health care coverage - would end up subsidizing expansion coverage in other states. He supported Massachusetts’ foray into universal health coverage in 2006, however.

Recently in the Legislature, Brown filed a bill that would block mandated insurance benefits, which he says are inflating costs, and would let a state panel review the cost and effectiveness of many treatment options the Legislature has required health insurers to offer in recent years - including infertility and chiropractic treatments. His Democratic opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley, decried that proposal, saying insurers could be relieved from coverage for mammograms.

Brown also backed away from his support for a cap-and-trade system for trying to contain greenhouse gases. In 2008, he voted with the Legislature for Massachusetts to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a pact among Northeastern states requiring power plants to reduce emissions or to buy credits from cleaner industries.

“Reducing carbon dioxide emission in Massachusetts has long been a priority of mine,’’ Brown said in a news release at the time. “Passing this legislation is an important step . . . towards improving our environment.’’

The vote was viewed as a legislative rebuke because former governor Mitt Romney - as he prepared for a run for the Republican nomination for president - had backed out of the regional pact in 2005. Romney agreed with business leaders that the plan would drive up costs, though environmentalists said it would cut costs by directing money to energy-efficiency programs.

“I voted for it, we passed it, but we were told that the rates would go down,’’ Brown said in an interview on WEEI’s “Dennis & Callahan’’ in October. “We were sold a bill of goods.’’

One environmental advocate who pushed for the greenhouse gas initiative, Conservation Law Foundation attorney Seth Kaplan, said the initiative could not possibly be blamed for cost increases at this early stage because the cap is still so high.

“I’m a little offended at the idea that we pulled a fast one on them,’’ Kaplan said.

Recently, Brown went further, expressing skepticism about climate change by saying, “the globe is always heating and cooling.’’

And though he has previously said he recognizes Roe v. Wade, the court ruling that legalized abortion, as the law of the land, he won the endorsement of Massachusetts Citizens for Life as an expected “prolife vote in the Senate.’’

“I believe - and he has stated - that he would vote for a [Supreme Court] nominee who would be opposed to Roe v. Wade,’’ said John Rowe, who heads the antiabortion group’s political action committee. Brown’s campaign says he would be willing to do so, but he does not view abortion as a litmus test for a Supreme Court nominee either way.

The American Future Fund, a conservative organization, began running an ad for Brown last week - leading Democrats to declare the negative ad shows he is beholden to party conservatives.

“Clearly, he’s saying something to them that makes them feel that he would fit right in with the hard-right of the Republican Party in Washington,’’ said John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. “He’s trying to have it both ways, I think. Scott is trying very hard to fit into the Rush Limbaugh wing of the party.’’

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in Sunday's Metro section on Republican US Senate candidate Scott Brown referred incorrectly to the TV show on Fox News Network hosted by Sean Hannity. The show is called "Hannity."