Scott Brown: Bay State politico at a crossroads

Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat is blue again. Less than three years after Republican Sen. Scott Brown took the political world by storm, he will return home to his pickup truck in Wrentham, Massachusetts.

Brown has now run for office ten times. Despite being a Republican in one of the country’s most Democratic states, Tuesday night was his first loss. But that didn’t make his defeat at the hands of Elizabeth Warren, a first-time candidate, any easier to take.

It was always going to be difficult for Brown to win a full Senate term in a presidential election year. He won the remainder of Kennedy’s unexpired term in a special election and was able to take Massachusetts Democrats by surprise. The center-right majority assembled by Republican candidates in the past is small, in the low 50-percent range, giving him little margin for error.

But Brown led in the polls for much of the year and was competitive throughout. “[L]ooking back to when this all started out, I don’t think there was anything in the demographics that prevented either of them from having a legitimate shot at winning,” Steve Koczela of MassINC Polling Group told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.

Brown posted fairly solid numbers, even in defeat. He ran nearly ten points ahead of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (Romney failed to break 40 percent in Massachusetts despite being the state’s former governor). He beat Warren among independents, a 45 percent plurality of the electorate, by a 59-to-41 margin.

He also won a 55-45 majority of moderates, who comprise 47 percent of the Massachusetts electorate. Even with his nonpartisan image, he held on to 95 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of conservatives.

Sixty-four percent of Massachusetts voters considered the economy the most important election issue. Brown won over this group, 51 percent to 49 percent. He also carried the tiny sliver of Bay Staters who cared most about the deficit, by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin. The exit polls, unfortunately, didn’t ask about taxes. (Brown repeatedly hit Warren as a tax-hiker.)

But Warren won 74 percent of the vote among those who cared most about health care, even though Brown’s pledge to be the 41st vote against Obamacare was crucial to his 2010 special election win. She also won back a lot of the “Scott Brown Democrats,” taking 89 percent of Democratic Party faithful.

Brown won only 19 percent of voters with a favorable impression of President Barack Obama. Even with the rise of independent voters in Massachusetts, that was too small a crossover vote for Brown.

There was also a gender gap. Brown prevailed among men by 53 percent to 47 percent. Warren became Massachusetts’ first female senator by carrying women 59 percent to 41 percent. While Brown touted his pro-choice credentials, Warren tied him to national Republicans on abortion and contraception.

Driving a wedge between socially conservative Democrats and socially liberal swing voters was an important part of Warren’s strategy. Brown needed big margins among both groups. Abortion and the HHS contraception mandate on religious employers — cast as a “war on women” by Democrats nationally — were two issues that pit them against each other and forced Brown to straddle.

Many of the things Brown did to demonstrate his independence from the national Republican Party so he could remain viable in a Democratic state cost him the support of outside conservative groups. Brown’s election was a tea party cause in 2010, with many out-of-state activists donating money and providing organizational muscle.