CONCORD, New Hampshire — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen wasted no time contrasting Republican Scott Brown's recent arrival in New Hampshire to her deep connections and decades of service, running ads against him hours before he won the Republican nomination. But Brown was just as quick to dismiss her claims as "bumper-sticker rhetoric" and pledged to answer only to New Hampshire voters, not party leaders.
Brown faced nine primary opponents on Tuesday, though only two mounted serious campaigns. The front-runner from the start, he spent months tailoring his message toward a November showdown with Shaheen, and he spent Tuesday reminding voters that Republicans need to gain six seats to win a majority in the Senate during the last two years of President Barack Obama's term.
"After six years of missed opportunities at home and growing dangers around the world, we need change," Brown said in his victory speech. "And the problem is a vote for my opponent will change exactly nothing."
This is Brown's third U.S. Senate campaign in five years. One of the original tea party favorites, he shocked the nation by winning a 2010 special election to replace the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Democrat. That win in a Democratic stronghold going back decades vaulted Brown to the top of the GOP's list of rising stars, but he was soundly defeated by Democrat Elizabeth Warren in 2012. Last year, he moved to New Hampshire, where he had a vacation home and had lived as a toddler, seeking to return to Washington from another state.
Shaheen has lived in New Hampshire for decades, and served as a state senator before becoming the first woman elected governor in New Hampshire and the state's first female U.S. senator.
"I didn't just move here. I've been here, working to make a difference for New Hampshire," Shaheen told supporters Tuesday night. "No matter where Scott Brown lives, he's going to put Scott Brown first. Not you. Not your family. Not New Hampshire."
Shaheen's biggest advantage is that almost every voter likely has interacted with her, said Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
"She's made it about her relationship with individual constituents here in New Hampshire," he said. "So far, she's been successful at saying, 'Remember me? I'm that person you reached out to, and I reached back, and together we solved problems.'"
Brown's two main primary challengers, former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith and former state Sen. Jim Rubens, cast him as a liberal flip-flopper, arguing that he's shown more consistency voting with Democrats than he has sticking to his convictions. Brown answered by calling himself an independent problem-solver willing to work across the political aisle and by reminding voters that, unlike his rivals, he never left the Republican Party. But he mostly focused on Shaheen, attempting to tie her to the increasingly unpopular Obama.
"Just because she's been throwing her vote away in the Senate does not mean you have to throw your vote away in November," Brown said. "I'm nobody's yes man, nobody's rubber stamp. Putting New Hampshire first will not be bumper-sticker rhetoric — it will be my mission every day."
Levesque said Brown's challenge is to keep the focus on Obama, though he said Brown also has shown himself to be a tenacious on-the-ground campaigner.
"He never stops. I think that's to his advantage in a state that prides itself on grassroots campaigning," he said.
Both will benefit from national interest in the race, Levesque said. While races in several other states are considered more competitive, outside groups already have poured $6.6 million into New Hampshire, bringing the total spent on the race to nearly $16 million.
If he's successful, Brown would become only the third U.S. senator to serve multiple states. Waitman Willey served Virginia and then West Virginia when it became a state during the Civil War, and James Shields represented Illinois and Minnesota before being elected from Missouri in 1879.
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