NASHUA, N.H. -- Jim Rubens, who has been running for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire for nearly a year, felt compelled recently to recite his political résumé by the numbers.
One hundred twenty-five speeches since May, 30,000 miles on his car. “I’ve lived here for 40 years,” Rubens said. “I’m connected to the state.”
He was speaking to the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference, but Rubens' remarks were aimed squarely at the dinner table in front of him, where former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and his wife, Gail Huff, focused on their salads.
Earlier in the evening, Brown stood at the same lectern to announce he would explore a bid for Senate in New Hampshire, not three months after moving from the Boston area to take up residence in his Rye, N.H., vacation home.
Brown is expected to defeat Rubens and the two other Republicans seeking the nomination to take on the Democratic incumbent, Jeanne Shaheen, in the general election. It promises to be a marquee matchup, with the potential to tilt control of the Senate to the Senate. If Brown wins, Republicans will hold up the result as a totem of an anti-Obamacare sentiment.
But Brown, who shot to fame in Massachusetts when he won a Senate special election amid the frenzied health care debate of 2010, must first pass a geography test of sorts.
Is he New Hampshire enough?
In his announcement, Brown immediately turned to his Granite State credentials, choking up as he recalled how his parents met on the New Hampshire seacoast and his summers spent in the state.
“I cherish those memories and those long and strong ties to this state, and without a doubt they helped to draw me back here as a full-time resident of New Hampshire,” Brown said.
Brown insists he was not tempted to stay in Massachusetts, where he could have run in a special election last year to fill the seat left open when Sen. John Kerry opted to become secretary of state.
“We had planned on spending our second half of our life here, to make a change to be closer to our family,” Brown said in an interview with the Washington Examiner. “So it’s really a personal decision more than a political decision.”
Brown’s move across the border to New Hampshire is hardly uncommon. Indeed, a Boston Globe report once noted that New Hampshire looked to “be turning into a suburb of Boston.” In 2008, roughly one-quarter of all New Hampshire residents were Massachusetts-born.
The cross-pollination between the two states produces obvious cultural ties, but it also inspires a fierce sense of state pride among New Hampshire residents, who cheerfully diss their Massachusetts neighbors.
“When you’re in New Hampshire and see a Massachusetts license plate on the highway, you usually say under your breath, ‘I hope those damn Massholes go home,’ ” said Patrick Hynes, a New Hampshire Republican operative. “But we’re welcoming of people from Massachusetts seeking political asylum here in New Hampshire.”
Indeed, for its proximity, New Hampshire is much friendlier territory for Republicans than deep-blue Massachusetts, and most New Hampshire voters are registered Independents.
But New Hampshire voters also place a premium on authenticity, and Democrats are already casting aspersions on Brown’s motives for relocating, saying his move doesn’t smell like asylum — it reeks of political opportunism.
“To me, the issue is, he lost in Massachusetts, and so he now thinks he can just move to New Hampshire and take his seat back?” said Kathy Sullivan, a former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair who played a prominent role in drafting Shaheen to run for Senate in 2008.
Brown's high-profile loss to Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2012 could yet haunt him this year across state lines. Warren has vowed to lend her powerful support, financial and otherwise, to Shaheen.
Shaheen, meanwhile, is already taking cues from Warren’s winning playbook and recently urged Brown to sign the “People’s Pledge” he shared with Warren to curb spending by outside groups. (Brown refused.)
But his prior Massachusetts campaigns also lend Brown potent advantages.
Little campaign money is raised in New Hampshire, but Brown enters the race with a powerful Massachusetts fundraising base. Plus, the majority of New Hampshire’s population is concentrated in the Boston media market, where people have been bombarded with ads about Brown over two election cycles. As a result, Brown’s name I.D. is nearly as high as Shaheen’s.
Many New Hampshire Republicans have campaigned for Brown before, in Massachusetts or in the ski resorts of New Hampshire, where Massachusetts residents vacation. But “those people who did that at that time did it for that particular race,” said Jim Merrill, a prominent New Hampshire Republican strategist who helped send volunteers to Massachusetts for Brown in 2010. “He’ll have to go out and re-earn that support.”
Brown is attempting to do just that on a weeks-long “Main Streets and Living Rooms tour,” leading up to an official campaign launch. The gradual start is meant to project humility, as Brown did when he first rang up the state’s political dignitaries.
Early on, Brown spoke with Jeb Bradley, a former member of Congress and the current New Hampshire Senate leader. Bradley had considered challenging Shaheen, and Brown tactfully asked him about it. “He indicated at one point that if I decided I wanted to run, he would have backed me,” Bradley said.
“He didn’t come in like a swashbuckling politician,” he added.
Among the calls Brown placed in advance of his announcement was one to Bill Binnie, a Republican businessman who ran unsuccessfully for Senate in New Hampshire in 2010. The conversation wasn’t merely an exchange of pleasantries between strangers: The two men met four or five years ago, Binnie told the Examiner, during a community meeting at the Rye Public Library.
“I think we were sitting next to each other, and we ended up chatting,” Binnie said. “He was there as a concerned citizen.”
Brown and his family have owned the same property in Rye since 1993, where they’ve stayed primarily during summers. The town of roughly 5,000 people, just south of Portsmouth, is home to an incidental smattering of the state’s political elite, including two prominent Republicans, former Gov. Craig Benson and former Sen. John E. Sununu, who Shaheen unseated.
Roughly a month ago, there were already traces of Brown in Rye. On the shed behind his home, someone had hung a kitschy fake street sign, designating “Browns Way.”
And inside the Rye Town Hall, an old building with white paint chipping off its wooden siding, the Town Clerk’s office recalled when Brown had come in, just before Christmas, to sign up to vote and to register his trademark pickup truck, which now sports new New Hampshire plates.
“I know him, you know,” the assistant town clerk, Andrea Morrissey, volunteered. “We’re neighbors.”
If Brown’s Rye neighbors don’t tell you about his roots in New Hampshire, though, he gladly will — to show just how New Hampshire he is, and can be, and will be, if he’s elected senator.
“I was born at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, my family goes back nine generations, I’ve been a homeowner for over two decades, and I’m not worried about fitting in,” Brown told the Examiner. “I think once most people understand me and learn about Gail and me and my family, they’ll say, ‘I get it. I’m just like him.’ ”