Massachusetts Republicans find Brown is their cup of tea

Senator seeks re-election as centrist

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TAMPA, Fla. — He won election as the tea party’s first successful candidate two years ago, but Sen. Scott P. Brown is now running for re-election as a political centrist — and his fellow Massachusetts Republicans say that’s just fine with them.

While Mr. Brown has amassed one of the most moderate voting records of any Senate Republican — frequently supporting legislation advanced by President Obama and distancing himself from the small-government conservatives in his party — Massachusetts delegates to the Republican National Convention here this week said he still has the kind of outsider appeal that helped give rise to the tea party in the first place.

“If people would go back and listen to what Scott Brown said when he ran in 2010, he’s done exactly what he said he would do,” said Brad Jones, a Massachusetts delegate.

Mr. Brown was elected as the tea party was gaining steam in the middle of the congressional health care debate, pocketing an endorsement from Tea Party Express and promising to give the Senate a key Republican vote it needed to reject Mr. Obama’s health care law.

The Tea Party Express spent nearly $300,000 attacking Mr. Brown’s opponent, Martha Coakley, who was also vying to serve out the remainder of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s term.

But now that the tea party movement has lost some of its initial steam, there’s a sense that the typical small-government, lower-taxes tea party candidate would have difficulty surviving in Massachusetts, where just 13 percent of voters identify themselves as Republicans.

Mr. Brown appears well aware of that as he goes head-to-head against Democrat Elizabeth Warren by touting his cooperation with Democrats and his moderate voting record.

The senator’s supporters say labeling Mr. Brown as a tea party candidate wasn’t entirely accurate in the first place.

“I don’t know that he should be described as a tea party candidate,” Mr. Jones said. “I think it’s fair to describe him as a candidate the tea party supported.”

While the tea party freshmen elected to the House in 2010 are largely known for blocking spending and tax legislation advanced by Democrats, Mr. Brown has spent the past two years in the Senate looking for ways to partner with the other side of the aisle.

After his election, he immediately began distancing himself from the tea party, turning down one invitation to speak at a tax day rally and another to appear in Boston with former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin just months later.

And he took steps in a tight re-election contest to create space between himself and the GOP by planning to attend the party’s three-day national convention for just one day and turning down an invitation to speak.

But Massachusetts Republicans insist Mr. Brown still intersects with the tea party in one important way: By advancing an outsider, populist message to voters.

“He understood that fundamental belief that it’s about representing the people, not representing your political interests when you go to Washington,” said Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson, another Massachusetts delegate.

The key to winning elections in Massachusetts is to appeal to the state’s large swath of independent voters. Mr. Brown won enough of those voters the last time, and Belmont resident Elizabeth Mahoney thinks he’ll do it again.

“Yes, it was the tea party energy, but in the broadest sense of what I think the tea party means,” Ms. Mahoney said.

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