BOSTON — Sen. Scott Brown may be the top Republican in Massachusetts, but ask the one-time tea party favorite about his political philosophy as he faces a tough re-election year and one word jumps out: bipartisan.
“I’m the most bipartisan senator in the delegation. And if not the most, one of the most bipartisan people in the entire Senate, and I take great pride in that,” Brown said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
For Brown — who says one of his top priorities is to get the Senate “to work in a bipartisan and bicameral manner” — staking out ground in the political center is imperative in a state that overwhelmingly favors Democratic candidates.
Adding to the pressures facing him is the political threat from Harvard professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren in her race for the Democratic nomination for Brown’s Senate seat.
Warren, who helped set up a new consumer protection agency in 2010 under President Barack Obama, has captured the imagination of Democrats in Massachusetts and raised millions in campaign contributions, much of it from outside the state. Polls show Warren and Brown in a tight race.
Brown said Warren’s campaign isn’t pushing him to the center. He said he always promised to be an independent voice in the Senate and he’s worked hard to keep that promise.
“I’ve always been like that. The beauty of me being there is nobody helped me get elected, except the people of Massachusetts,” Brown said.
“I didn’t have a big machine behind me last time. My average donation was $88. So when I went down there I could be that independent person,” he added. “When they ask for my vote they have to earn it.”
In contrast, he said, Warren will be “voting in lockstep” with the rest of the state’s Democratic delegation.
During the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy in 2009, many initially counted out Brown, then a back bench state senator.
But a late surge, aided by a flood of more than $14 million in campaign cash — much of it from out of state — helped propel him to victory over Democratic nominee Martha Coakley. At the time, he promised to be the “41st vote” against President Barack Obama’s health care bill,
But Brown also points to key votes he’s taken that are at odds with more conservative Republicans.
He supported the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred gay soldiers from serving openly. He backed a jobs bill that gave Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats a needed victory.
He also joined Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine to help push through a sweeping financial overhaul bill, and was among a handful of GOP senators to back the ratification of the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia — another Obama priority.
Warren has tried to portray Brown as a favorite son of Wall Street for accepting donations from the financial industry. Brown acknowledges taking donations from the financial sector but said the fact that he’s supported some of the same initiatives Warren backed shows he’s not in anyone’s pocket.
“I voted for the financial regulation bill that she (Warren) was on the White House lawn saying was the best piece of legislation in three generations when it comes to financial regulations,” Brown said. “To somehow say I’m in bed with Wall Street when I voted for a bill that they hated.”
Warren’s campaign, however, said there’s no way Brown, who had more than $10 million in his campaign account as of the end of September, can portray himself as the underdog in the race. Warren had more than $3 million.
“There’s no definition of underdog that would describe Scott Brown, someone with … the full fundraising support of Wall Street and the big banks, and Karl Rove doing his dirty work,” said Warren campaign spokesman Kyle Sullivan, referring to the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush.
Crossroads GPS, an affiliate of American Crossroads, a group with ties to Rove, has launched a series of ads targeting Warren.
Brown has called on all outside groups, including Crossroads GPS and those groups supporting Warren, to pull all ads. Warren draws the line at unfair attack ads but defends the rights of political action committees and other independent groups to run ads.
Warren’s campaign said Brown’s public call to pull the ads has allowed him to distance himself from Crossroads GPS and Rove without actually removing the ads from the airwaves.
“Karl Rove and Wall Street have spent the first of what will be millions of dollars attacking Elizabeth, and Scott Brown’s only response is inaction and empty words,” Sullivan said.
Although socially conservative tea party activists, many of them from out of Massachusetts, have faulted Brown for staking out moderate stances during his nearly two years in office, local tea party members say they’re sticking with the man they helped elect.
“My feeling is that he’s doing exactly what he said he was going to do,” said Christine Morabito, the newly elected president of the Greater Boston Tea Party. The choice is particularly stark given the alternative to Brown, she said.
“He votes with conservatives about 75 percent of the time as opposed to Senator Kerry who votes with conservatives about three percent of the time,” she added. “I don’t think Elizabeth Warren is going to vote with conservatives more than Kerry.”
Most recently, Brown issued back-to-back statements blasting House Republicans for initially refusing to agree to a Senate compromise bill designed to avoid a payroll tax increase in January.
“I’ve chided both sides,” Brown said. “Every time there’s a problem, we’re going to shut down the government? Really? Give me a break.”