- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2011

BOSTON | Massachusetts Democrats insist Sen. Scott Brown is vulnerable in next year’s elections, arguing the surprise winner last year of the seat long held by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has compiled such an uninspiring voting record that both Democrats and conservative Republicans will be gunning for him in 2012.

Despite the brave talk, state Democrats are having the hardest time recruiting a major candidate willing to take him on.

The Kennedy clan has taken a pass - Vicki Kennedy, the senator’s widow, is not interested, and former Rep. Joe Kennedy has suggested that he won’t be tossing his hat into the ring. The state’s top Democrat, Gov. Deval Patrick, also appears unwilling to enter the race.

Thomas M. Menino, the straight-talking, five-term Democratic mayor of Boston, recently gave the Boston Herald a blunt assessment of the his party’s chances of ousting Mr. Brown: “There’s nobody that can beat him.”

Alan Khazei, co-founder of a major local youth program, is the latest Democrat to formally announce his candidacy, joining Robert Massie, a former candidate for lieutenant governor, and attorney Marisa DeFranco.

Others possible contenders are Setti Warren, the first-term mayor of Newton, an affluent Boston suburb, as well as U.S. Reps. Michael E. Capuano and Stephen F. Lynch.

Mr. Brown for now appears to be content to stay above the fray, letting the Democrats fight among themselves.

“There will be plenty of time for politics in 2012, but right now Scott Brown is focused on doing his job as a senator and fighting for policies that will grow our economy and put people back to work,” said Colin Reed, a spokesman for Mr. Brown.

Asked for her views on the Democratic field, Jennifer A. Nassour, Massachusetts Republican Party chairman, was more candid, saying, “I’ve seen nothing.”

“The Democratic field up here in Massachusetts, their bench is not that deep,” Ms. Nassour told The Washington Times, adding that Mr. Brown’s strength derives from the fact that he’s doing everything he said he would be doing.

Mr. Brown, a relatively unknown state legislator when he scored a stunning upset to take the seat, has been “an independent voice who is making decisions on what is best for the people of the state,” Ms. Nassour said. “I think it’s really showing as far as it makes it more difficult for anyone with any real credibility to come forward to challenge him.”

Still, John E. Walsh, the head of the state Democratic Party, insisted in an interview that he’s “very happy” with the early list of Democratic contenders, and said the most important part of the equation is Mr. Brown himself, who has supported policies of the national Republican Party during his 14 months in office.

Mr. Walsh pointed in particular to Senate Republicans’ move last year to link an extension of jobless benefits to a renewal of tax cuts approved under President George W. Bush - including tax cuts for the wealthy. He also cited Mr. Brown’s vote to advance a House GOP bill to cut some $61 billion in federal spending, including money for job training and women’s health care centers. Neither that bill nor a Democratic alternative passed the Senate.

“There is a consistent pattern where this guy is voting against the interest of Massachusetts,” Mr. Walsh said.

Mr. Brown skyrocketed to national fame in 2010 special election by becoming the first Republican to translate strong support from the tea party movement into electoral victory, winning in a historically blue state and serving as a harbinger of big GOP gains to come.

Since then, however, he has upset both sides of the political spectrum.

He’s voted for President Obama’s sweeping financial regulation law, the START nuclear-weapons deal with Russia and the end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the ranks. He also opposed recent Republican efforts to strip Planned Parenthood funding and joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in criticizing Mr. Obama’s plan to cut a program offering subsidized heating oil to low-income families.

Judson Phillips, the outspoken leader of the Tea Party Nation, accused Mr. Brown of throwing fellow Republicans “under the bus” on spending issues and called on conservatives to challenge him in the next election.

But Amy Kremer, the head of the Tea Party Express, has said the movement shouldn’t try to oust Mr. Brown because in liberal-leaning Massachusetts he is likely the “lesser of two evils.”

But Mr. Brown’s moderate track record - and the failure so far of state Democrats to recruit a strong challenger - have many in the state thinking the senator will be tough to knock off.

Michael Kryzanek, a political science professor at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Mass., said that “Democratic leaders are not going to admit that publicly,” but “there is a general agreement that he is clearly on track to be re-elected.”

“What you have is people who are either tentatively announced or leaning that way, but don’t have the cachet or reputation, or the good looks or the pickup truck that Scott Brown drove around,” he said, referring to Mr. Brown’s widely praised 2010 campaign.

“So all of that leads me to believe that he is clearly an individual who would clearly be difficult to beat if the election were held today,” Mr. Kryzanek said.

Mr. Kryzanek also said the strength of Mr. Brown’s support likely increased this year after he revealed during an interview on “60 Minutes” that he had been molested by a camp counselor as a child.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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