For residents of this picturesque New England town, Scott Brown’s exercise routine was a familiar sight -- steady and symbolic of the man himself.
He could be seen running down the main drag -- past the hardware store that sells brown eggs, past the bakery with the pumpkin whoopie pies -- almost every day. No headphones. Occasionally with his daughter. Always with purpose.
“Running, not jogging,” said Nabil Shehata, the owner of a pizza and subs place in the center of this Boston bedroom community. “Yes, fast.”
Speed is a theme coursing through the story of Brown, the largely unknown state senator who in short order upended the political stereotype of his state, rewrote the game plan for Republicans everywhere and single-handedly sidelined the biggest piece of legislation poised to come out Washington in years.
His convincing victory Tuesday over Democrat Martha Coakley zipped a man with no national profile into the realm of political folk hero. He snatched the former seat of liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy. His campaign will be studied, his every move in Washington watched. In Massachusetts, his model of GMC truck, the mobile symbol of his “everyman” campaign, is selling out at dealers.
Brown is perhaps the men’s magazine version of everyman. At 50, he is a competitive triathlete and a former male model, married to a television reporter. He has worked his way from a broken home to a half-million-dollar Colonial in a wooded cul-de-sac. Along with his real estate law practice and his political office, Brown is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard and a Judge Advocate General’s Corps lawyer. He has a time-share in Aruba.
Still, Brown connected with voters frustrated with the slow pace of economic recovery and disapproving of the sweep of Congress’ healthcare overhaul. He stayed on message -- successfully battling his proclivity for verbal gaffes. (Until his victory party, that is, when he told the world his two college-age daughters were available.) Pundits note that he planted himself studiously on the side of voter sentiment. As the 41st Republican in the U.S. Senate, he promised to put a stop to the healthcare bill on the cusp of passage -- fast.
“You could tell that people were using him as a vehicle,” said state Sen. Bob Hedlund, a Republican who campaigned with Brown. “It maybe could have been anybody, but putting him out there with the looks and the family and the truck -- it certainly is a nice package.”
The package still has some unknown contents.
Brown was viewed as one of the most conservative members of the Massachusetts legislature, where Republicans are a slim minority. His positions are nuanced -- opponents say expedient.
Although Brown promised to block passage of the current healthcare proposals, he supported Massachusetts’ healthcare reform plan, which had some similar features. He is opposed to the federal cap-and-trade effort to trim carbon emissions, though he voted for a regional version -- a move he now calls a mistake.
Brown, whose staff said he was unavailable for an interview, has said that he supports abortion rights, with caveats. He has endorsed a ban on the procedure opponents call late-term abortion, and sponsored an unsuccessful amendment that would have allowed a doctor to refuse the morning-after pill to rape victims if it was against the doctor’s religious beliefs.
Brown’s legislative work focused largely on veterans’ issues and cracking down on sexual predators. Coakley and her Democratic allies tried to paint his record as thin and his approach as strictly partisan.
But Brown successfully countered with a promise of independence, branding himself a “Scott Brown Republican.”
In the postelection afterglow, Republicans in the state repeatedly said, “We’re all Scott Brown Republicans now.” Several political insiders acknowledged that they are unsure of what that means.
“We’re in a state where the legislature is dominated by Democrats. To be a Republican is to be an independent here. That’s how I think of it,” said Matt Sisk, a member of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee.
A rocky start
Perhaps more is known of Brown’s bootstraps upbringing. His parents divorced when he was a baby, and his mother went on to various jobs, with stints on welfare, he says. Both parents went on to marry three more times. The home in Wakefield, Mass., was busy, the marriages rocky, and by the time Brown was 11 he was looking for stability.
“He just wandered into the parking lot of the school, bouncing a basketball,” said Judy Simpson, a social studies teacher who looked out for Brown and kept in touch. “I was teaching summer school as remediation. And he just came up and said, ‘Do you think they’d let me come here?’ He was a kid who asks to go to summer school. He was a real self-advancer even at that age.”
Summer school wasn’t enough to keep Brown out of trouble. At 12, he was arrested for shoplifting rock records. He now describes the event as a turning point. He shaped up, played basketball at the local public high school and used his skills to get into Tufts University in Boston.
While in college, he joined the Army National Guard. He went on to Boston College Law School, known as a breeding ground for the state’s politically ambitious and connected.
“There are people who walked into the place with campaign signs on their backs. But he never really struck me as someone who was going to run for office,” said Frank Doran, a law school friend. “He had other things to worry about.”
Among the things he worried about was paying tuition, which led him to modeling, he has said. In his first year, the 6-foot-2, dark-haired Brown was named the nation’s sexiest man by Cosmopolitan magazine. (He says his sister entered him into the contest unbeknownst to him.) He came away with $1,000 and a nude centerfold with a caption describing him as a “not-so-shy showoff” hoping to use the award to meet “slinky girls.” Brown briefly moved to New York to pursue modeling, then returned to Boston.
A winning record
His political career began in Wrentham, where he ran for assessor and kept moving up, winning his ninth consecutive election Tuesday. He will finish Kennedy’s term and have to seek reelection in 2012.
“Some politicians like the policy; others like to campaign. Scott Brown loves to campaign,” noted a Republican official who asked not to be named.
Brown was ready for a tough and abbreviated race. He had gained entry into the state Senate in 2004 by narrowly pulling off a win in his politically split district southwest of Boston.
During that race, Brown made an off-note remark that would come to haunt him when he said that a lesbian raising children was “not normal.” He later apologized for the remark.
That election, like Tuesday’s, was a closely watched special election that became viewed as a referendum on a single issue. Brown ran against same-sex marriage. He was also closely tied to then-Gov. Mitt Romney, and he remains so; former Romney aides ran his U.S. Senate campaign.
Their work will be in hot demand as other Republicans look to replicate the Brown win in contested districts across the country in November. As in Massachusetts, those races may come down to voters like Debi Albee, a real estate agent who voted for Barack Obama for president and Scott Brown for Senate.
“I think I was trying to send a message,” Albee said as she got her nails done in the salon on Wrentham’s main street. Brown didn’t run through town that day. He was already in Washington.
“I don’t think Obama has done all that he promised,” Albee said.
“You’re too impatient,” a friend interrupted.
“Yeah, I guess I wanted change fast.”