MANCHESTER, N.H. — They briefly lingered a few feet away from each other in the gymnasium-sized room, filled with small Greek and American flags, but almost completely devoid of other people.
Jeanne Shaheen looked at her aides. Scott Brown glanced at his cell phone. Greek music lilted over loudspeakers. A moment passed.
Then New Hampshire’s senior US Senator and her might-be opponent greeted each other, cordially but cooly.
“Hey Jeanne,’’ Brown said shaking Shaheen’s hand. “Good to see you again.’’
She greeted him back. Brown’s wife, Gail Huff, and Shaheen’s husband, Billy, exchanged a brief hello. Then the two politicians and their spouses swiftly separated to opposite sides of a celebration of Greek Independence Day at a church community room in Manchester.
But in separate interviews after the polite, if awkward, encounter, Shaheen and Brown sharpened attacks against each other.
Sixteen days after Brown announced he was exploring a run for US Senate in the Granite State, Shaheen knocked what she said were Brown’s ties to the petroleum and financial industries. Brown dinged her for voting in practical lockstep with President Obama, saying she was out of touch with people in New Hampshire.
Both were keen to contrast themselves with their potential opponent.
“I’m sure the people of New Hampshire will find out that he’s represented big oil and gas interests, that he’s represented Wall Street and voted with them consistently,’’ she said.
In an email, Julie McClain, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party cited a 2012 vote by Brown against allowing a bill aimed at curtailing certain tax benefits for large oil companies from moving forward. Among other data points cited: that Brown had worked to “water down’’ the 2010 Wall Street overhaul known as Dodd-Frank, McClain said. Both Brown and Shaheen voted for the final legislation that became the overhaul law.
Asked to respond Shaheen’s charges and similar ones, Brown said they were “not unexpected based on her history of attacking and trying to mislead people and direct them away from her voting record.’’
Echoing a talking point similar to one used during his 2012 US Senate race against Elizabeth Warren, Brown said he had been named the “most bipartisan Senator.’’ He contrasted himself with Shaheen, who, he said, votes with President Obama “99 percent of the time and has clearly lost the values of the people of New Hampshire.’’
In 2013, Shaheen voted with Obama in 99 percent of votes in which the White House stated a clear preference, according to a vote analysis by CQ Roll Call, a Washington-based publication.
If Brown makes his bid official, which he is widely expected to, he would have to win a GOP primary before facing Shaheen, a Democrat.
Despite their attacks on each other in interviews with a reporter, Brown and Shaheen stuck to more benign topics of discussion as they mingled at the celebration.
With two older women, Brown and Huff discussed their daughters and noted both were getting married this summer.
Shaheen inquired about about a man’s kids. “And these are your boys?’’ she said, before introducing herself to one with a handshake and a “hi, Georgie.’’
Most everyone in the crowd appeared to recognize both Shaheen and Brown. Many referenced Shaheen’s history as an elected official in the state.
“I see you and I say ‘oh there’s the governor,’’’ Diane Spiro LaRoche said with a laugh as she greeted Shaheen, who served six years as the state’s chief executive and was first elected to the US Senate in 2008.
Spiro LaRoche, a 64-year-old Manchester resident and fourth grade teacher, said she would support the incumbent Democrat come November.
“He’s very handsome,’’ she said, but “you can’t judge a book by its cover; you’ve got to look inside.’’
Nearby, Brown chatted with Jean Vlangas, a 78-year-old Manchester resident.
Vlangas recounted meeting Brown at a local restaurant last week. She said she approached him and told him he bore a striking resemblance to Scott Brown and he replied, “I am!’’
“Remember,’’ Brown joked to her as he moved to another table, when I see you “three times…I get your vote.’’
But Vlangas, who said she is a Republican “from the word ‘go,’’’ was already certain to cast her ballot for him, should he be the GOP nominee.
“We need to get rid of Shaheen,’’ she said, explaining to a reporter that she did not think the incumbent had accomplished anything during her time in Washington.
Anyhow, she added, she had been rooting for Brown since watching his upset 2010 US Senate special election victory in Massachusetts over Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Later on Sunday, Shaheen and her husband marched in Manchester’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Men and women along the parade route yelled out “Hi Jeanne!’’ to her again and again.
“It’s a little chilly,’’ she said to one group near City Hall. “Got to keep moving.’’
Election Day, after all, is more than seven months away.