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Brown’s ads mostly silent on senator’s affiliation

By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / August 13, 2012
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In Washington, the race between Senator Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren is a key battle in a partisan war over who controls the Senate. But in the world of Brown’s television commercials, his website, and his speeches, the senator’s political party is often barely visible.

His three newest advertisements feature Democratic endorsers, all of whom identify their own party prominently, without mentioning Brown’s Republican allegiance at all.

“I’m a Democrat, but I’m tired of all the polarization, the pettiness, and the bickering,” Ray Flynn, the former mayor of Boston, tells the camera, in a Brown ad played repeatedly during the Olympics.

In the highly polarized realm of national politics, his public coziness with Democrats is an anomaly. But in Massachusetts, it is a necessity, especially in a presidential year in a state where President Obama is expected to defeat Republican Mitt Romney by a significant margin. Democrats hold a distinct voter registration advantage in Massachusetts, more than three to one, though the majority of voters are not in a political party.

With the Democratic testimonials, Brown is hoping to give Democrats interested in his candidacy a comfort level, said Joseph D. Malone, a former state treasurer and one of a small group in his party to win statewide constitutional office in the modern era. That’s why the ads — both on television and radio — are devoid of ideological content, instead depicting Brown as “more a friend and neighbor,” Malone said.

“Many Democrats are people who will tell you, ‘I’m a Democrat, my father was a Democrat, my mother was a Democrat.’ It’s just something they inherited,” Malone said. “He’s saying, ‘It’s OK to stray from your cultural roots to vote for this Republican.’ ”

Blurring party distinctions, and focusing on personality rather than politics, is a time-honored strategy for Massachusetts Republicans. In the 1960 governor's race, Republican John A. Volpe’s slogan was: “Vote the Man. Vote Volpe.”

The idea is echoed in the latest Brown ad, released Wednesday, which features Paul Walsh, former Bristol County district attorney, saying, “This election, I’m voting for the person, and the person I’m voting for: Scott Brown.”

In the 2002 governor’s race, Romney used to say that the “R’’ next to his name stood for “Reform.”

Richard R. Tisei, the Republicans’ best hope at winning a House seat this year, also released a television commercial Wednesday that does not mention his party, instead highlighting the words “independent” and “bipartisan” directly on the screen. Tisei is running against Representative John Tierney, a Salem Democrat, in a Northeastern Massachusetts district.

The Republican formula is an obvious contrast to the path for Warren, who needs to capitalize on Democratic turnout to defeat the popular incumbent. Her commercials, website, and speeches focus more directly on policy differences with Republicans, her anti-Wall Street populism, and her personal connection to Obama.

After Romney announced his selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate on Saturday, Brown was conspicuously silent, even as other Republicans in Congress heaped praise on the conservative Wisconsin representative. At the Globe’s request, Brown’s spokesman issued a statement that was careful not to align too closely with Ryan. “While Scott Brown has his disagreements with some of Paul Ryan’s positions, he respects the fact that he is a solutions-oriented leader interested in honest debate,” spokesman Colin Reed wrote.

Brown needs independents and cross-over Democrats, especially white working-class voters who have been critical to Republican success at the polls in Massachusetts. To win them over, he is conveying a dual message with his ads: that he is nonpartisan, and that he is more a product of Massachusetts than he is of a political party. The sharper edge in some of his campaign statements, which often question Warren’s integrity, and the Tea Party enthusiasm that helped propel him to victory in 2010, are nowhere to be seen.

“He’s trying to remind people that he’s one of us,” said Lawrence S. DiCara, a former Boston city councilor and longtime Democratic insider.

In the newest ad, Walsh’s native accent is hard to miss. Shots of his hometown New Bedford, a Democratic stronghold with a struggling economy and a blue-collar electorate, are prominent.

The Flynn ad features the former mayor in his South Boston home, and shows Brown in front of triple-deckers. Flynn, a former ambassador to the Vatican, is also identifiable to many older voters in the state as a forceful opponent of abortion and gay marriage, which could attract socially conservative Democrats.

Democrats are quick to point out that Brown’s endorsers are far from loyal Democrats. Flynn, for example, has drifted away from the party, voting for President Bush in 2000 and endorsing Mitt Romney in January, just before the New Hampshire primary. Walsh endorsed Republican William Weld in his 1996 bid against Senator John F. Kerry and Republican Paul Cellucci in his 1998 run for governor.

Asked in an interview why he endorsed Brown and recorded the commercial, Flynn said it is all about the connection Brown has with voters. He said he does not know Warren, or much about her.

“It’s the personal touch that he has,” Flynn said. “I don’t even know if it’s about issues.”

Brown’s campaign staff is also quick to blast out e-mails whenever Warren’s fellow Democrats compliment Brown or show any hint of disparaging Warren’s campaign. Among those Brown missives was a recent New Republic article that included Democrats praising Brown’s common touch and a few who questioned Warren’s election strategy.

DiCara, one of those quoted in the article, reaffirmed in an interview that he believes Brown is a gifted campaigner who takes many great votes for Massachusetts. But DiCara held a fund-raiser for Warren and plans to vote for her, he said, because Republican control of the Senate would be disastrous to the state.

“When he [Brown] goes to Washington,” DiCara said. “He caucuses with the Republicans.”

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.

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