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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: In U.S. Senate race, Brown looks beyond primary to general election

More than two months before the Republican primary – and four before the general election – U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown’s sights are trained well beyond his primary opponents and right on incumbent Jeanne Shaheen.

His primary opponents, Jim Rubens and Bob Smith, take any opportunity they can to criticize Brown, yet Brown rarely hits back publicly.

“A united Republican party is Senator Shaheen’s worst nightmare,” he said several times during a recent WMUR debate as Rubens and Smith continually attacked him.

Subtext: I am the one who can create that unity. Brown leads his opponents in every poll, even ones where his own favorability rating is negative, yet still trails Shaheen by more than the margin of error. That means between now and the Sept. 9 primary, he has to walk a fine line between appealing to primary voters without pandering so much that he ruins his chances in the general election.

Case in point: Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that a Massachusetts law creating “buffer zones” around abortion clinics is unconstitutional, Brown issued a statement Friday in strong support of the law, as well as a similar law recently signed New Hampshire. Brown voted for the law as a Massachusetts state senator in 2007, leaving him the choice of either backing his previous position or flip flopping. A flip flop might have given him some goodwill with primary voters, but it certainly would have hurt him in the general.

“I supported the Massachusetts law that created buffer zones around abortion clinics. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision striking down that law, I do not regret my vote. No matter how you feel about abortion, women should feel safe when they seek out and obtain medical services for themselves,” Brown said in a statement.

Then he went a step further, encouraging New Hampshire lawmakers to find a way to fix the law here so as to keep it in place.

“I encourage Gov. Hassan and the New Hampshire Legislature to make any necessary adjustments so that the law can remain substantially in place,” he said.

To several Republican operatives not affiliated with the campaign, Brown made this right move. Sticking to his guns on an old position strengthens the air of authenticity that was so crucial in his first campaign, they said. If Brown were in just a two-man primary, his calculation may have been different.

Rubens and Smith will try to use this as a wedge issue, with Rubens focusing on the free speech aspect and Smith on the abortion aspect. Both issued statements cheering the court’s decision. But most voters who vote on abortion or other social issues weren’t likely to support Brown anyway. Brown is on record as a social moderate, and has shaped his campaign around issues such as the economy and health care.

“I think he’s made it clear through his campaign so far that he doesn’t want to talk about social issues,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. “I think he wants to make a point of going after one of Shaheen’s strengths, which is women voters, he’s got to find a way to weaken that.”

Brown’s campaign stresses that he is not taking the primary for granted.

“Scott Brown is taking nothing for granted and running a traditional, retail-heavy New Hampshire-style campaign. So far, he’s made over 100 stops across the state to meet with voters in their living rooms and businesses, earning each vote one handshake at a time,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton said in a statement.

Indeed, part of Brown’s tightrope walk includes engaging with his primary opponents just enough that he can “starve them of oxygen” as one observer said. In addition to the WMUR debate last weekend, he’s agreed to participate in three more (Rubens insists he forced Brown into the debates by demanding he engage more.)

During the past two weeks, Brown’s campaign rolled out a number of endorsements from former Rubens supporters, each with a statement about why Brown was the better choice. These new supporters provided Brown an important means of criticizing Rubens’ decision not to sign the state Republican Party’s Unity Pledge without having to say it himself.

One of Brown’s new supporters, state Rep. Rick Ladd of Haverhill, was first listed as a Brown supporter on June 11, when Brown released his list of county chairs. But the Brown campaign said nothing about the switch until a week later, when Rubens said it was “premature” to sign the pledge.

“I initially supported Jim’s candidacy, but am disappointed that he has refused to commit to endorsing our eventual nominee for senate. It’s troubling he is leaving the door open to supporting a third party candidate who could siphon off votes from Republicans,” Ladd said in a statement released by the Brown campaign.

Brown’s decision to roll out U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s endorsement so early in the campaign was another clear attempt at getting primary supporters to coalesce around him. Democrats consider it a sign of weakness that Brown rolled out Ayotte so early. Several Republicans, however, see Brown spotlighting supporters like Ayotte and Mitt Romney, as well as picking off Rubens supporters, as an effort to keep enlarging the sense of inevitability around himself.

Brown knows the bigger margin of victory he has over his rivals in the primary, the better suited he’ll be in the general.

“He does not want the story the day after the election in September to be ‘Scott Brown wins narrowly in primary.’ . . . He wants to run up the score to be sure” Scala said. “Brown’s in a position to trot out endorsements, and it leaves Rubens and Smith trying to make some noise.”

Scrutinizing stock options

The Boston Globe once again produced a story this week that had one state party calling a U.S. Senate candidate from the other “shady” in relation to stock options. Last time, it was Democrats questioning Brown’s role as an advisor with a penny stock company based in Florida.

This time? An investment Shaheen’s husband, Bill, made in a company call Ultrawave Labs Inc. that researched breast cancer detection technology and received stimulus money in 2009, when Shaheen was a U.S. senator. Bill Shaheen’s investment in the company was included in both Shaheen’s personal financial disclosure, submitted to the Senate Ethics Committee in May, as well as through her and Bill’s income tax returns, made public by the campaign on Tuesday. The Globe reported that Ultrawaves received $78,000 in federal stimulus money and lobbied the Department of Defense and other government entities on breast cancer research. Shaheen, the Globe noted, had supported a Defense Department breast cancer research program alongside many other lawmakers.

The New Hampshire Republican Party was quick to seize on the story, sending out multiple press releases demanding that Shaheen answer questions about the investment.

Shaheen’s campaign stated unequivocally that the Shaheens did not profit from Bill Shaheen’s investment and that the stock options expired in 2013, even though they are listed on her disclosure form as expiring in 2019. Shaheen’s campaign said Ultrawave confirmed the stock options expired last year and that Shaheen will be amending her disclosure form.

Shaheen and her supporters defended the fact that she’s fought to fund breast cancer research.

“I think it’s disappointing that my Republican opponents . . . the only thing they can find to attack me on is breast cancer research,” Shaheen told NHPR on Friday.

Like the story on Brown’s involvement with Global Digital Solutions, the company he advised, this story generated significant partisan anger from the other side. In Brown’s case, he became an adviser to the company in 2013 and received $1.3 million in stock options. The company billed itself as a gun manufacturer but had no products, no revenue and no facilities. Several experts called Brown’s investment questionable, and Brown resigned as an adviser and relinquished his stock after harsh criticism.

But like Shaheen, Brown’s campaign said he never received any profit from his involvement with the company.

Fond farewell

Associated Press reporter Norma Love retired Friday after 31 years covering the New Hampshire Legislature. Both the Senate and House honored her earlier this month, and Gov. Maggie Hassan declared a Norma Love Day. Ayotte read a proclamation honoring Love into the congressional record.

The praise is well deserved, and Love will be missed in the State House press room.

What to watch

∎ The Ballot Law Commission will hold a hearing on whether Walt Havenstein is eligible to run for governor on Monday morning. Democrats have pressed Havenstein to provide more documents regarding his part-time Maryland residence, but BLC Chairman Brad Cook said he plans to go forward with the hearing Monday and would like to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

∎ Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney is heading to New Hampshire on Wednesday to endorse and hold a rally for Brown. Mitt-fever has been spreading in Republican circles lately from party members who desperately want a unifying leader come 2016. Although Romney says he doesn’t plan to run, expect his New Hampshire visit to generate more calls for him to do so. The rally is Wednesday afternoon at former state representatives Doug and Stella Scamman’s Bittersweet Farm in Stratham.

∎ Hassan is back from her trade mission to Turkey and will likely be pressed to prove the trip had tangible economic benefits. Republicans, meanwhile, will need to come up with a new line of attack against her now that the trip is over.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Romney is coming to New Hampshire to hold a fundraiser for Brown. The event on Wednesday is a rally.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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