- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2012

Persuading Massachusetts voters to elect a Republican to a full U.S. Senate term isn’t easy, and it has left Sen. Scott P. Brown blazing a lonely trail in Washington, where he’s spent much of the year voting with Democrats — or bucking both parties altogether.

While fellow Republicans such as Sen. Orrin G. Hatch and Richard G. Lugar edged rightward to try to head off primary challengers, Mr. Brown has gone the other direction, supporting big bills backed by President Obama such as cybersecurity, combating violence against women and two small-business tax bills that Republicans filibustered last month.

Just as stark, Mr. Brown was one of only two Republicans who refused to back his party’s plan to extend the Bush-era tax cuts last month, and earlier in the year voted against all four of the GOP’s budget plans, including that of Republicans’ new vice-presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan — though he also voted against Democrats’ own tax plan, and against Mr. Obama’s version of the budget.

That maverick streak has left him competitive in his race against Elizabeth Warren, a consumer advocate and Democrats’ nominee to try to unseat him this year.

“For Democrats who are out for revenge, it’s harder to pin him down,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “They can’t pin him down as a right-wing conservative.”

Tailoring voting records in an election year is standard for senators, who keep a close eye on public opinion back home as they vote in Washington.

For Mr. Hatch and Mr. Lugar, both of whom faced stiff primary challenges, that meant tacking right. After building reputations over the years of working with Democrats, they didn’t sign on to some bipartisan bills — like two last spring that increased anti-violence funding for women and softened cuts to the U.S. Postal Service.

It paid off for Mr. Hatch, who survived his primary. But Mr. Lugar lost his nomination battle.

There’s an opposite challenge for Mr. Brown in Massachusetts, where his political danger comes from the left.

Where other Republicans rally around their presidential nominee-to-be Mitt Romney and Mr. Ryan, Mr. Brown has maintained a distance, telling voters that while he supports the GOP ticket, they shouldn’t count on his vote in the Senate.

“If in fact there is a different, a change of leadership, I’m going to look, read those bills and see how they affect Massachusetts, our country, our debt and our deficit and vote,” Mr. Brown said last week. “Regardless of who is pushing it, a good idea is a good idea.”

The few times Mr. Brown has sided with his party this year, Mrs. Warren hasn’t let him forget it.

In February, he co-sponsored an amendment that would have effectively overturned the Obama administration’s mandate on businesses to cover contraception for employees. The rule has sparked dozens of lawsuits by Catholic and evangelical organizations and business owners who say it violates their religious freedom.

Mrs. Warren pounced, calling the legislation an “irresponsible assault” on health care and launching a series of radio ads that said Mr. Brown was “plain wrong” for supporting it.

She also put Mr. Brown on the defensive after he twice voted against a Democratic plan to freeze student-loan interests rates, which were set to double on July 1. Both plans would have paid for the freeze by raising payroll taxes collected from owners of some private corporations.

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