WASHINGTON -- Scott Brown finally took the plunge. And this time he kept his shirt on.
The former senator from Massachusetts, after keeping politicos in Washington and his newly adopted home state of New Hampshire guessing for months, announced Friday that he had formed an exploratory committee to run for U.S. Senate in the Granite State this year.
The step -- he called it the start of a "Main Streets & Living Rooms Tour" -- is short of a full commitment to run for the seat held by first-term Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. It allows him to begin raising money and hiring staff as he moves toward formally entering the race.
"Starting tomorrow morning, and for the next several weeks, Gail and I will be traveling around the state to introduce ourselves, to ask questions, to speak with everyone of every background – Republicans, independents and Democrats alike – and above all to listen to them and learn of their concerns," Brown was to say at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference, according to prepared remarks.
Brown shocked the political world in 2010 by winning a special election in Massachusetts to claim the seat that had belonged to a Democratic icon, the late Edward M. Kennedy. His victory, on a platform of defeating President Obama's healthcare law, was seen as a precursor to the eventual Republican tsunami in the fall that put the party back in control of the House and sliced the Democrats' Senate majority.
Brown signaled Friday that Obamacare might again be his ticket to victory over Shaheen, who served three terms as governor of New Hampshire before her election to the Senate in 2008.
"A big political wave is about to break in America, and the Obamacare Democrats are on the wrong side of it," Brown said.
Brown moved to New Hampshire last year after he lost his reelection bid for a full six-year term as Massachusetts senator in a marquee 2012 battle against Elizabeth Warren.
The relocation immediately sparked speculation that he might be looking to return to the Senate in the more hospitable political terrain of a swing state rather than true-blue Massachusetts. Last month a photo of a shirtless Brown – preparing to participate in New Hampshire's annual Polar Bear Plunge at the Atlantic seacoast -- landed on the front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader, the state's influential daily newspaper.
A trip to Iowa, though, sent a different signal: that he may have presidential aspirations. And he frustrated some state Republicans with mixed signals about his Senate plans – including a recent interview with the Washington Post that suggested he might pass on a bid.
"I'm 54 years old. I've been a senator. I've had, I feel, a productive, successful political career," he told the paper in February. "Is there more? I don't know."
If he goes ahead with a Senate bid, Brown first has to emerge from a crowded Republican field. Another former U.S. senator, Bob Smith, is looking to win back the seat he lost in 2002. Jim Rubens, a former state senator, and Karen Testerman, a 2010 gubernatorial candidate, are also running in the September primary contest.
National Republicans have signaled that Brown would make the strongest candidate against Shaheen, capable of raising the funds to compete against the established Democrat and helping the party expand its map as it looks to gain the six seats required to end the Democrats' six-year run in the majority.
A Suffolk University poll released last week found the primary race wide open -- Brown was at 33%, ahead of Smith's 12%, but 46% of Republicans were undecided.
Shaheen led Brown in a hypothetical general election matchup, 52% to 39%.
"If he manages to survive a Republican primary against Republicans who are actually from New Hampshire, he'll have an even tougher general election against Jeanne Shaheen, whose common sense leadership makes a difference for New Hampshire," New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said in a statement.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times