CONCORD, N.H. -- With primary rivals questioning his conservatism and consistency, Republican Scott Brown said Wednesday that he had been the most bipartisan U.S. senator with a record of accomplishments "second to none" during his three years in Washington.
Brown, who represented Massachusetts from 2010 to 2013, is among 10 Republicans competing in New Hampshire's Sept. 9 primary for a chance to take on Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen in November. During a WGIR radio debate, the front-runner spent much of his time defending himself against his two top opponents, former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith and former state Sen. Jim Rubens.
Smith, who lost the seat in 2002 and recently returned to New Hampshire from Florida, argued that Brown doesn't offer voters a clear contrast with Shaheen, a former governor seeking a second Senate term. While Brown wants to repeal President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, he supported the Massachusetts law that served as its model. Brown argues that states should decide what makes sense for themselves, but Smith said voters won't see that as a distinction.
"Shaheen's going to throw that right back at Senator Brown because of his support in Massachusetts," Smith said. "She can't do that with me."
Rubens argued that Brown has changed his positions on gun control and other issues. And he joined Smith in complaining about the attention and endorsements Brown has received from the Washington establishment
"The celebrity tour has been fantastic, and the media has played into it, but the voters are not convinced.
Brown bristled at the characterization, saying that while he's proud of his endorsements, he is working hard to earn the support of voters through town hall meetings and other grassroots campaigning. And he defended his bipartisan votes by listing a handful of bills he sponsored that became law, including a bill to help small businesses raise capital and another that bans insider trading in Congress.
"I've always been an independent voter and thinker, and I'm a problem solver," he said. "That's why I have a record of legislative accomplishment second to none."
Though he began the debate by saying he would not say anything negative about his rivals, Brown indirectly reminded voters that both Smith and Rubens had left the Republican Party at some point and flirted with third parties. Smith briefly dropped out of the GOP in 1999 while running for president; Rubens was involved with the independent New Majority Party in 1993.
"If you want to talk about Republicanism, I'm the only one here who's been a lifelong Republican," he said.