Saturday April 6, 2013

BOSTON -- Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown has set New Hampshire’s political world ablaze by hinting he may run for office in the Granite State, drawing sharp criticism from Democrats and widespread interest from Republican leaders.

Brown’s political future is far from certain, but the former tea party darling, now a Fox News contributor, is well known in New Hampshire and maintains a national fundraising network that forces people across the political spectrum to take him seriously.

"Scott Brown is well liked up here," New Hampshire GOP Chairman Jennifer Horn said Friday. "New Hampshire Republicans want to hear what he has to say. If he decides to run, I think they’ll give him an honest chance."

After delivering a speech in New Hampshire on Thursday night, Brown told reporters he’s likely not "done with politics" and emphasized his connection to the state, which he described "like a second home." Asked if he might challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire in 2014, he said: "I’m not going to rule out anything right now."

There is no sign that Brown has begun to lay the groundwork for a serious campaign. He has been out of office since January after losing an expensive and bitter re-election battle against Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren last fall. But those close to him suggest that Brown, known at times for being impulsive, would take a serious look at the New Hampshire Senate contest if he is received well in the coming weeks.

He said he’s been invited to speak in the state four of the next five weeks. As news of his comments spread Friday, top New Hampshire Republican operatives such as Rich Killion suggested that Brown could be a force.

"I think Granite State voters would definitely welcome Scott Brown into the race," Killion said.

"In the early stages of political endeavors like this I often look at the opposition’s reaction as a basis of viability," he continued, citing "a tangible sense of panic" from Democrats.

Indeed, Democrats in New Hampshire and Washington have reacted swiftly and strongly. The state party began issuing fundraising emails just minutes after Brown’s comments were published by The Associated Press. A party spokesman said the initial 12 hours of online fundraising were the best in the state party’s history, but declined to release any numbers.

"This has been a very lucrative day for the party," said state Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley.

Shaheen’s campaign distributed an urgent message to supporters early Friday: "This is serious: Brown’s campaign spent $40 million in 2012. Most of that went to lie-filled attack ads. He’ll try the same thing against Jeanne," the campaign wrote.

Shaheen, a former New Hampshire governor, faces her first re-election test as a senator next year. Recent polling shows she is popular heading into the next election season, although Republicans suggest the political landscape could change dramatically by the fall of 2014.

Should he run, Brown’s path would certainly not be an easy one.

The voters who know him best rejected his re-election just six months ago. And he would have to convince New Hampshire residents that he is one of them, despite having lived most of his life in another state. Brown’s primary residence is in Wrentham, Mass., but he owns a home along New Hampshire’s seacoast.

New Hampshire law has a seven-year residence requirement for candidates for governor and state senate, but no time requirement for U.S. Senate candidates. So long as Brown is a registered New Hampshire voter before the 2014 candidate filing period, he would be eligible to run.

Republican operative Jamie Burnett said many New Hampshire voters already feel a special connection to Brown because they volunteered on his 2009 special election campaign.

"He almost became their adopted son when he won that race," Burnett said, adding that he still sees Brown bumper stickers on cars around the state. "But he would have his work cut out for him."

The list of out-of-state politicians who successfully launched New Hampshire political careers is a short one.

It includes former three-term Republican Gov. Mel Thompson, who lived in Georgia and Florida before moving to New Hampshire. Former Republican Sen. Gordon Humphrey represented New Hampshire for two terms in the U.S. Senate despite being raised in Connecticut, living out-of-state as an airline pilot until shortly before his election.

Horn said other New Hampshire Republicans already considering the Senate contest would not step aside for Brown. Those include former Congressman and current state Sen. Jeb Bradley, former Congressman Frank Guinta and former U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu.

At least one New Hampshire Republican operative isn’t taking Brown seriously.

A veteran of state and national politics, Michael Dennehy said the remarks "make for fun talk around the water cooler, but Brown for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire is not realistic."

"His comments are disrespectful to the people of New Hampshire who take their politics and their officials very seriously," Dennehy said.