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For GOP pick, high hurdles but many selling points

By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / December 9, 2009

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NEWTON - State Senator Scott P. Brown, a telegenic triathlete and military lawyer, launched his uphill battle last night to become the first Republican to represent Massachusetts in the United States Senate in 30 years by introducing himself as an independent thinker while lambasting his opponent, Democrat Martha Coakley, as beholden to special interests.

“We can send another partisan placeholder to the United States Senate, or we can try something new,’’ Brown told 200 cheering supporters at the Boston Marriott Newton Hotel. “We can elect an independent voice for all of Massachusetts, and that’s the United States senator I promise to be.’’

Without mentioning Coakley by name, Brown said voters now have a choice between “another rubber stamp’’ or someone who will “take my orders from you, the people who sent me to Washington to make a difference.’’

“They say I’m the long shot, and if the same old powers-that-be get to decide this election, I guess that’s right,’’ Brown said. “But I’m betting that a new day is coming in Massachusetts.’’

Brown, one of just five Republicans in the 40-member state Senate, easily defeated Duxbury businessman Jack E. Robinson in yesterday’s Republican primary.

Brown faces significant hurdles between now and the Jan. 19 final election: He is less well-known than Coakley, who is the state’s attorney general; he is a Republican in an overwhelmingly liberal state; and the six weeks until the 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 public option. He also opposes cap-and-trade legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, calling it a job killer; she supports the approach.

On social issues, he supports abortion rights, as does Coakley. Unlike Coakley, however, he opposes same-sex marriage, which is legal in Massachusetts but controversial in much of the rest of the country. He supports a constitutional amendment to ban such unions, and he has opposed repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In the Legislature, Brown has labored unsuccessfully to reduce 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 antiestablishment 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 Jan. 19,’’ said Barbara Anderson, executive director of the antitax group Citizens for Limited Taxation. “He’s a good campaigner. . . . If it’s the beginning of the revolution year, Scott has a chance.’’

Brown garnered some notoriety at age 22, in 1982, by posing nude for an article in Cosmopolitan magazine about “America’s Sexiest Man.’’ But some of his family members are even better-known. His daughter Ayla was a finalist on “American Idol’’ in 2006 and last night introduced her father as “my American idol.’’ Brown’s wife of 23 years, Gail Huff, is a veteran reporter at WCVB-TV. The couple’s other daughter, Arianna, is a freshman at Syracuse University.

Last night at the Boston Marriott Newton, about 150 Brown supporters burst into 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 appetizers and sipping wine and beer, sang “God Bless America’’ in a ballroom with signs reading “Bold New Leadership.’’

The last Republican to represent Massachusetts in the Senate was Edward W. Brooke, defeated in 1978 by Paul Tsongas. Brown is now running for 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 that Brown “won’t win.’’

But several political analysts said that Brown’s US Senate candidacy could help his political career even if he loses, because it will raise his profile.

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.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.