- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sen. Scott Brown entered the chamber in 2010 as the tea-party darling who made Republicans relevant in Washington once again, giving them the 41st vote in the Senate that allowed them to filibuster President Obama’s agenda.

But the Massachusetts Republican is leaving town quietly, losing his re-election bid last month and delivering a farewell address Wednesday to a nearly empty Senate — though in his remarks he hinted at a possible return.

“Victory and defeat is temporary, depending on what happens, and all of us — we may obviously meet again,” he said.

It was an allusion to the speculation that Democratic Sen. John Kerry could be tapped by President Obama to be the next secretary of the State Department, which would open up Massachusetts’ other Senate seat and sparking a special election for which Mr. Brown would be the GOP’s front-runner. Republican strategist Michael McKenna said he rated Mr. Brown’s chances of returning at no worse than even.

Just three years ago, Mr. Brown won a similar special election, riding popular anger against Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan and the health care bill that was awaiting final negotiations on Capitol Hill. His GMC pickup truck and his appearance as 22-year-old in a revealing photo as a Cosmopolitan centerfold catapulted him into a national sensation as a candidate, and then as a senator.

His election instantly cut the health care talks short since, as the 41st Republican senator, Mr. Brown could help the GOP filibuster any final agreement.

That forced Democrats to ram the Senate version through the House in an awkward procedure, and left Mr. Brown the most popular man in town. He and his attractive daughters were star guests at that year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, and he was swarmed by reporters at the Capitol who wanted to know what the Hill’s key swing vote thought on every matter.

But the 2010 elections sent six new Republicans to the Senate, making Mr. Brown far less important to the voting calculus but freeing him up to spend the last two years carefully tailoring his votes to try to win re-election in liberal Massachusetts.

He lost to liberal former banking regulator Elizabeth Warren in one of the most expensive races in history, and on the Senate floor Wednesday he lamented his inability to get more done.

“I’m proud that I did keep that promise to be independent. I’m proud that my voting record has identified me as the second-most bipartisan senator,” he said.

But that voting record also made him a disappointment to many Republicans who thought he could be transformational as a bridge between the nascent tea party movement and a crusty, tradition-bound Senate.

“He was a very important guy when he got here and he has been moving towards the margins ever since,” said Mr. McKenna, the Republican strategist. “Partly that’s just because he’s another Senate moderate. He came in, there was some thought he would be more of a populist than a moderate or a conservative — he’d play mix-and-match more with his votes. That just hasn’t happened.”

Mr. Brown leaves without having passed any bills he authored, though he did help push the Stock Act, which banned insider-trading by members of Congress; a law that encourages hiring of veterans; and the elimination of a withholding requirement for businesses that was included in the health care law but came to be seen as too onerous.

Mr. Brown also established one of the more eclectic voting records, delivering the key 60th vote to pass the Dodd-Frank legislation that rewrote financial regulations, and he voted against the House GOP’s budget. But he voted for the House’s spending-cuts bill last year, and voted to repeal the president’s health law.

Most striking has been the change in attention. Where he once was mobbed by senators on the chamber floor and reporters off it, he now moves about the hallways without any trouble.

Professor Fred Bayles, director of Boston University’s statehouse program, said Mr. Brown’s election created unreal expectations.

“He’s an icon, really, more of the times than anything else,” Mr. Bayles said “He wasn’t there that long to really make a difference. He wasn’t what people, I think, especially the tea party [and] the conservative Republicans, expected him to be. There was a lot of disappointment. Massachusetts is not a big tea party state. He was elected for a lot of reasons, the tea party being the least of them.”

Mr. Brown’s less than three years in the chamber make him by far the most junior member who is leaving. Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, is retiring after one full six-year term, while the average for all dozen senators leaving office is nearly 20 years’ service.

Jim Manley, a former senior aide to Democrats including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the man whose seat Mr. Brown won, said the outgoing senator misjudged what he could do.

“If he came down here trying to think that he could play all sides, then that’s just not the way this place works anymore,” Mr. Manley said. “He belongs to a party that is dominated by extremists, and yet he continually tried to deny that as his party voted to support one bill after another that was going to have a negative impact on his constituents.”

Whether Mr. Brown could have won re-election this year if he’d changed his votes to more closely match liberal Massachusetts is debatable.

“Doubtful but maybe,” said Mr. McKenna.

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