, Newburyport, MA

April 3, 2014

Getting down to brass tacks in Shaheen-Brown Senate race

Newburyport Daily News

---- — The expected match between New Hampshire Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Scott Brown for a seat in the U.S. Senate is one of the marquee races of the 2014 midterm elections.

The outcome may determine whether Harry Reid and the Democrats retain the Senate or the Republicans seize control and challenge President Obama in his last two years in office.

There are plenty of issues to debate — the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the United States’ standing in the world in the face of challenges from enemies like Russia, Iran and Syria, energy policy and global warming, scandals of the Obama administration — Benghazi, NSA spying, the use of the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies to stifle dissent.

The debate should be a grand political spectacle and one that helps clarify those issues.

Instead, what we have to date is a combination of farce and melodrama.

First the farce.

Brown’s signature moment so far was his comment to an Associated Press reporter:

“Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ’Cause, you know, whatever,” Brown said, sounding every bit the barn-jacketed phony his critics portray him as.

Late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon mercilessly mocked Brown’s “Wassup, dude?” moment, and Brown deserved it.

The gaffe reinforced doubts about the commitment of the former U.S. senator from Massachusetts to the race and to New Hampshire.

It doesn’t help that Brown’s response to the Shaheen camp’s relentless branding of him as a carpetbagger is, in effect, “I know you are, but what am I?” Shaheen may not be “from here,” as Brown says, but she’s called the Granite State home for more than four decades, not three months.

Now for the melodrama.

In some ways, Brown’s challenge is the best thing that could have happened to Shaheen.

The last thing she wants to talk about in the swing state of New Hampshire is her lockstep support for Obamacare, the politicization of the IRS and the rest of the Obama-Reid agenda.

No, what Shaheen wants to talk about is the “dark money” she claims is behind Brown. Every day, Shaheen sends plaintive emails to potential supporters begging for support, arguing that she’s being targeted by big monied conservatives such as the Koch brothers. The goal of Shaheen is simply to demonize anyone they can link, however tenuously, to their Republican opponents.

By all means, let’s talk about the role of big money in this race. What are the Kochs doing for Brown and what, in return, can Brown do for the Kochs?

But let’s not leave out Shaheen’s big money backing from Democratic crony capitalists.

And we also need a more vigorous debate on the serious issues that confront the nation.

So far Brown and Shaheen are ducking that debate.

The good news is that New Hampshire’s rock-solid voters will determine the winner in this race.

They will decide whether Brown’s short residency disqualifies him from representing them in Congress or whether they don’t care about that, only about his positions, his platform, his intentions.

Granite Staters will look beyond Brown’s barn jacket and Shaheen’s tailored suits and ask penetrating questions about their stands on issues like the ACA.

The state has held a presidential primary for nearly 100 years and takes the job seriously. State law says it must hold the nation’s first presidential primary, a responsibility New Hampshire holds on to tighter than the Old Man of the Mountain did to the granite side of Cannon Mountain.

New Hampshire voters are polled, bombarded with phone calls and mailings, studied by reporters across the country. They’re quite accustomed to big money flowing in from out of state to influence their votes. And on more than a few occasions, the big money hasn’t won the day.

They know what they want and, ultimately, will decide who they want. They can separate the wheat from the chaff, the opportunistic from the opportunity. They’ll sort things out.

Brown and Shaheen have their work cut out from them.