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.
And she criticized him for opposing the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would make it easier for women to sue for claims of sex discrimination in pay and was uniformly opposed by Senate Republicans, who said it would open the door to wasteful lawsuits.
The two candidates are running neck and neck and hauling in millions of dollars, putting the race on track to become the most expensive Senate campaign ever.
Hoping to win over the self-proclaimed moderates who make up an unusually large portion of Massachusetts' electorate, Mr. Brown has been flashing his bipartisan credentials, backed up by one of the most moderate voting records in the Senate.
He was one of three Senate Republicans to vote for the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and one of eight to support repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in December 2010.
Earlier this year, he publicly urged his fellow Republicans to support reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, pointing to his own mother's history of abusive relationships with men.
He broke from his party last month to support one bill that would have provided businesses with incentives to move jobs to the U.S. from overseas and another offering tax credits to businesses that hire new employees or increase wages, both of which were filibustered by Senate Republicans.
And he refused to take sides in the dispute over extending the Bush tax cuts. He rejected both Democrats' plan to allow only cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire and a plan touted by Republicans to extend all the cuts, saying it still allowed some tax credits benefiting children and education to expire.
But while Mr. Brown likes to refer to himself as "a Scott Brown Republican" — analysts say his voting record could take some new turns if he's elected to serve a full six years.
"My guess is that he agrees with Ryan about most things and a full six-year term would produce a different kind of voting record than a two-year term does," said Dennis Hale, a political science professor at Boston College, referring to Paul Ryan, who is known as a fiscal hawk. "He's going to be watching very carefully what the reaction to Ryan is."
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