- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

PROVIDENCE, R.I. | The political team that helped Republican underdog Scott Brown stage his improbable victory in the Massachusetts Senate race wants to apply its winning strategy elsewhere this election year. First stop: Rhode Island.

The Shawmut Group, led by aides to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is helping GOP congressional candidate John Loughlin, who is campaigning to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy.

The handiwork of two Shawmut Group principals, Eric Fehrnstrom and Peter Flaherty, was evident in Mr. Loughlin’s campaign announcement speech, staged shortly after Mr. Brown’s win on Jan. 19. Mr. Loughlin, like Mr. Brown a state legislator and longtime member of the National Guard, stressed in his remarks that suspected terrorists should be handled in the military justice system, not civilian courts.

“When it comes to terrorists, we should be getting information from them, not the other way around,” said Mr. Loughlin, reprising almost verbatim one of the new Massachusetts senator’s campaign lines.

It also was a shift for Mr. Loughlin, who previously had focused on taxes and his belief that Mr. Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the man Mr. Brown replaced, had lost touch with average people.

The Shawmut Group also is working with New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, Long Island congressional candidate George Demos and Massachusetts state auditor candidate Mary Connaughton. A relationship with Connecticut Republican Tom Foley ended when he switched from a Senate to gubernatorial campaign.

“I think the Brown campaign really was a perfect storm, but they learned a lot of lessons about the Internet, raising a lot of money and sharpening a message that can be taken to other states and races,” said Scott Reed, a Republican political consultant who managed Bob Dole’s unsuccessful 1996 presidential campaign.

“These consultants are hot, and it’s logical to try to re-create the magic in another state. And all that is a warm-up for the main event, which is another run by Romney,” said Mr. Reed.

Mr. Fehrnstrom declined to comment about the firm’s new campaigns. Mr. Flaherty, meanwhile, briefly considered his own race against the Democrat whom Mr. Brown defeated, state Attorney General Martha Coakley, before deciding to stay focused on his family and his business.

While Mr. Loughlin’s message on terrorism aligned him with one of the central tenets of Mr. Brown’s campaign, it was a surprise in deeply Democratic Rhode Island. Here, in a state where the unemployment rate has neared 13 percent, the economy has been a hot topic.

The remainder of Mr. Loughlin’s Feb. 4 announcement speech also hewed closely to the Brown campaign playbook: terrorism, taxes, health care and government spending, as well as transparency in Washington.

Mr. Loughlin, like Mr. Brown, also complained that President Obama’s economic stimulus plan had not created a single job in Rhode Island, although the state’s Republican governor has credited the program with creating or saving about 1,500 jobs. Mr. Loughlin later said he meant no “net” new jobs in a state where job losses have risen for years.

Mr. Loughlin said he was in talks with the Shawmut Group even before Mr. Brown’s win, but settled on the firm because of its proximity to Rhode Island and its understanding of the nuances of running in New England.

The common threads between his message and Mr. Brown’s are coincidental, he said.

“Those similarities existed long before the Shawmut Group came on board. They haven’t really changed at all,” he said. “What they help you with is figuring out the best way to present information, more than anything else.”

The Shawmut Group initially was headquartered out of the same Lexington, Mass., office building where Mr. Romney has his political action committee. Also located there is the venture capital company founded by Mr. Romney’s eldest son, Tagg. Shawmut now has a “virtual” office through the Internet, but its members regularly congregate in Lexington.

The concentration has created something of a campaign-in-waiting, with everyone working interchangeably on their own ventures but in unison on a second Romney run expected next year.

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