Last weekend, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) bobbed and weaved to avoid answering reporters’ questions about her new high-profile Republican challenger, Scott Brown, and his attacks on her for supporting President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Yet, when a reporter in Manchester pressed about what most differentiated her from Brown, the first-term senator didn’t miss a beat:
“I’ve been working for the people of New Hampshire for the past 18 years,” she said, The Boston Globe reported. “This is my home. This is where my kids grew up . . . . My goal has been to serve the people of New Hampshire, not to serve myself.”
If there was any question about whether she intended to play the “carpetbagger” card against Brown – the former Republican senator from neighboring Massachusetts -- Shaheen quickly dispelled it. With the outcome of her race likely to help determine whether the Democrats can retain control of the Senate in November, Shaheen’s best strategy may be to portray Brown as an interloper who is more concerned about getting back into politics than protecting the interests of New Hampshire.
Before Brown’s appearance on the scene, Shaheen was expected to scratch out a second term victory in her marginally Democratic state, despite the GOP’s plans to hammer her for voting for Obamacare and linking her to an unpopular President Obama. But with Brown, a gregarious and accomplished campaigner, now running against her, the outcome of the race is in doubt.
“This race here as well as nationwide is going to hinge on Obamacare,” said Andrew E. Smith, an associate professor of political science and pollster at the University of New Hampshire. “That’s going to be the message that Republicans are going to be driving, and they’re going to hit that over and over and over again.”
Which is why Shaheen is trying to change the subject by pummeling Brown as a carpetbagger – and the tactic appears to be resonating with some voters.
The term carpetbagger is a derogatory term that was first used by Southerners to refer to Northerners who traveled to the South after the Civil War to make money or to work as officials in the reconstruction process.
When Suffolk University/Boston Herald pollsters in March asked voters to identify words they most associated with Brown, “Carpetbagger/interloper” was one of the terms most often cited. Brown knows he is highly vulnerable to the charge and has worked hard to embellish his Granite State ties, including circulating photos of himself as a toddler vacationing in Portsmouth, N.H. more than 50 years ago.
“His biggest problem obviously is that he just moved here recently and is going to be labeled as a carpetbagger, both by Shaheen and by Republican challengers for the nomination,” Smith said. “That’s going to be his biggest challenge, as well as to be able to convince people that he knows enough about New Hampshire and what New Hampshire businesses and people are interested in and need from him.”
Brown, 54, a former Massachusetts state legislator and one-time darling of the Tea Party, stunned the political world by winning the seat of the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) in a 2010 special election against Democratic state attorney general Martha Coakley . He then ran for a full term but lost to Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren in 2012. Brown subsequently became a Fox News commentator before he turned his sights on Shaheen’s Senate seat earlier this year.
During his formal announcement in Portsmouth last Thursday, Brown attacked Shaheen as a “rubberstamp” for President Obama because she voted for Obamacare and has supported administration economic policies that he said have hurt everyday people, according to The Globe.
“She’s a very nice person, but she’s wrong on the issues affecting the people of New Hampshire,” Brown told a crowd of about 200 people in a hotel ballroom.
Former Republican New Hampshire governor John Sununu, a big Brown booster, has frequently told audiences that in moving to New Hampshire to run, Brown is “coming back to his roots” and is definitely not a carpetbagger. In fact, Brown’s roots are in Kittery, Maine, where he was born, but as a boy he visited his grandparents in New Hampshire during the summer.
By the same token, Shaheen, 67, isn’t a native of the Granite State either. She was born in St. Charles, Mo. But she has lived in New Hampshire, raised a family and made a name for herself in politics over the past 40 years. And as the only woman in history to be elected both a governor and a U.S. senator, Shaheen unquestionably is part of the fabric of her state.
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Precisely how much of a factor the carpetbagger issue will be remains to be seen. Historically, moving from one state to another to run for office hasn’t necessarily been a disqualifier.
Democrats Robert F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Hillary Rodham Clinton of Illinois and Arkansas established residency in New York, in 1964 and 1998 respectively, and successfully ran for the Senate. They, of course, were cases with oversized political names and followings. And – unlike Brown – they hadn’t held elective office in another state before making their move.
While Brown’s decision to pull up stakes and move to New Hampshire in a bid to return to the Senate is clearly on the minds of many voters, it’s worth noting that about 60 percent of Granite State residents were born out of state, and many commute daily to Massachusetts to work. Moreover, New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan, is also a Massachusetts transplant.
“But I think it still is a problem for Brown,” said Smith, the political scientist. “Because one thing people don’t like is an opportunist in any area. And it’s very easy [for critics] to play the story, ‘Oh, so you couldn’t win in Massachusetts, so you’re going to move across the border and run here. We don’t have to play second-fiddle to you folks in Massachusetts.’”
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