Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who lost his 2012 Senate reelection bid to Elizabeth Warren, is said to be “leaning strongly toward running” in a special election to replace Sen. John Kerry. Kerry was just appointed secretary of state by President Obama. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick chose his former chief of staff, William “Mo” Cowan, to occupy the seat until the special election on June 25.
For Brown, this would be his third Senate run in three years, an astonishing (and presumably for the candidate, exhausting) fact given that senators usually hold office for six years. Brown, at this early stage, is the favorite: even when losing to Warren, he retained a 60% favorability rating, and currently leads his main Democratic opponent Congressmen Ed Markey by either 23 or 3 points, depending on the poll.
Brown is enough of a political force that a presidential run seems plausible, and I’m not sure that running again for the Senate is the best path to further those ambitions. Deval Patrick has indicated he won’t seek reelection in 2014, and running for governor should appeal to Brown based on recent presidential history. Only six of the first thirty-four presidents (18%) served as governors directly prior to becoming president, but four of the last ten presidents (40%) went this route. Sixteen senators have become president, but the last senator to do that other than Barack Obama was Richard Nixon.
In addition, Republicans fetishize the idea of “executive experience,” whether as the head of a corporate or of a state. Republicans criticized Obama for only having a few years of Senate service when he ran for president, but cheered the two years of executive experience held by Gov. Sarah Palin when she ran for vice president. While most of this is due to partisan cheerleading, it makes sense that the party that loves business and distrusts the government would favor governors as presidential candidates.
Brown is also fighting the recent failures of Massachusetts politicians on the presidential stage, including losses by Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, and Mitt Romney. If you don’t count George H.W. Bush (who was born in Massachusetts but moved to Texas at 24), the last president from Massachusetts was John Kennedy.
Obama’s candidacy shows that a strong candidate and a national movement can sweep away unwritten rules and pundit pontificating. Brown is a unique candidate who may lack the soaring oratory of Obama, but has a plainspoken and even-keeled persona that could resonate with voters tired of partisan bickering. If I were advising Brown, I would tell him to stay out of Washington for a few more years, run for governor, and use that as a springboard to greater things. There’s the danger that another loss in a Senate race might brand him as a loser. But the lure of power might be too much. Or maybe he’s just a glutton for the punishment that campaigns dish out.