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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Scott Brown speculation heats up, but is it fantasy or reality?

Is it a bubble, a symptom of wishful thinking and electoral anxiety? Or is it real, a groundswell that could upend conventional wisdom and the political state of play?

Could he do it?

Would he do it?

For seven months now, former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown has been flirting with a run in New Hampshire next year against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

He’s registered a political committee here. He’s appeared at events large and small. He’s been taking potshots at Shaheen. And since first dropping the hint in April, he’s refused to rule anything out.

By dint of New Hampshire’s swing-state status if nothing else, a Republican challenger could have a shot against Shaheen in 2014. But she hasn’t exactly attracted lots of top-tier opponents: leading the GOP pack are former state senator Jim Rubens, who hasn’t held public office in 15 years, and longtime conservative activist Karen Testerman, whose run for governor in 2010 ended with a third-place primary finish.

So why not Brown?

He’s a formidable fundraiser. He’s got broad name recognition, especially in the southern tier of the state where voters watch Boston TV stations and (usually) vote Republican. He’s got a house in Rye.

A poll from New England College back in October showed him with a comfortable lead in a GOP primary. And a September poll from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed Shaheen leading Brown by 4 percentage points – just outside the 3 percent margin of error.

With former congressman Charlie Bass’s announcement last week that he wouldn’t challenge Shaheen, speculation about a Brown campaign rose from a simmer to a low boil.

“I think Scott Brown has shown he could win based on being a good independent voice that has America’s best interest at heart,” Bass told National Journal.

“It’s up to him whether he’s going to run. But absolutely he’d be a very strong candidate,” U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte told Roll Call.

“I don’t think Scott Brown is just fooling around,” said Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a front-page story in Friday’s Boston Globe about Brown’s Granite State maneuverings.

But even if Brown decides to run – and that’s a big if – could he overcome the “carpetbagger” label and pull a reverse Daniel Webster? (Webster represented New Hampshire in the House before he represented Massachusetts in the Senate, earning him statues in front of both states’ capitols.)

“Maybe what started off as a sort of publicity stunt, perhaps he’s mulling it over. Perhaps he’s not,” said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. “I’m still skeptical he’s going to give up his day job to run against Shaheen. . . . It’s still a big leap to go into a neighboring state and run for the U.S. Senate there.”

But, Scala said, the NRSC’s interest in a Brown run isn’t a surprise.

“Looking at it from their perspective, Scott Brown is a better choice than anyone else they have right now,” Scala said. “I don’t imagine they’re too impressed with Rubens. I don’t imagine they’re impressed with Testerman. . . . From their perspective, why not? At worst, he might tie up some funds that otherwise would go elsewhere.”

For fundraising reasons, a decision seems likely sooner rather than later. But, again, who knows? New Hampshire’s filing period for 2014 doesn’t close until June 13.

Meanwhile, Testerman and Rubens are plugging away. Rubens last week issued a plea for an end to speculation about potential new candidates – “the field is now clear” – and Testerman will formally kick off her campaign Tuesday evening at The Yard restaurant in Manchester.

And while Shaheen hasn’t been shy about raising money off speculation about a Brown run, New Hampshire Democrats are poking fun at this situation. Rubens and Testerman, tweeted Democratic National Committee member Kathy Sullivan on Friday, “must be feeling like Rodney Dangerfield.”

Granite gossip

The gossipy Double Down: Game Change 2012 hit bookshelves last week. And there’s no shortage of New Hampshire tidbits in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s insider recap of last year’s presidential election.

Some highlights:

∎ Mitt Romney appears to be a close reader of the New Hampshire Union Leader. The paper’s endorsement of Newt Gingrich “unnerved him,” the authors note, and “he wasn’t particularly pleased” with the paper’s coverage of his campaign kickoff in Stratham, which was relegated to A3 while a Sarah Palin visit to Seabrook made the front page.

∎ Romney is described as “obsessed with the Granite State, to the point of insisting that his formal entry into the race occur before a debate schedule to take place there in mid-June (2011). We need to show New Hampshire it’s special, he said; missing the debate would be disrespectful.”

∎ Manchester’s Mike Biundo makes a couple of appearances as Rick Santorum’s national campaign manager.

∎ So does Hancock’s Dave Carney, a top Rick Perry adviser who eventually left the Texas governor’s doomed campaign. He’s described as “a gruff, bearlike, reclusive presence.”

∎ Ayotte was one of 11 potential vice presidential nominees considered by the Romney campaign, according to the book, and the only woman on the list. She didn’t make the final shortlist.

∎ Ayotte and ex-governor John H. Sununu make a couple of other appearances, including as part of a Romney campaign “war council” following the revelation of the candidate’s ill-advised “47 percent” remarks.

∎ “Man, I love New Hampshire.” – Bill Clinton, while riding to a rally in Concord with President Obama on the Sunday before Election Day.

But no local politico appears to get more ink than Romney adviser Tom Rath: “A former New Hampshire attorney general turned lawyer-lobbyist, strategist and sherpa, Rath was a fixture in New Hampshire politics. Every four years, presidential hopefuls solicited his services in navigating the first-in-the-nation primary.”

Rath is variously described as “gnomic and twinkle-eyed,” “with the waist of his khakis hiked over his belly,” “an irrepressible kibitzer” and “a classic moderate New England Republican, ideologically squishy but strategically and tactically shrewd.”

Beating the drum

That dull thudding sound you hear might be the sound of Republican press releases landing on Shaheen, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and Rep. Annie Kuster.

After a slow start, the 2014 campaigns seem to be gaining steam. And just about every GOP candidate and group thinks Obamacare’s botched rollout is a loser for New Hampshire Democrats.

Some of last week’s news releases, via Rubens, the state Republican Party, Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire and Gary Lambert:

∎ “Rubens Calls on Shaheen to Apologize for Obamacare Lies”

∎ “NHGOP CALLS ON SHAHEEN TO JOIN OBAMA IN APOLOGIZING FOR OBAMACARE DEBACLE”

∎ “Obama apologizes. Will Shaheen and Shea-Porter do the same?”

∎ “Lambert to Kuster: What are you Doing to Make Obamacare work for Middle-Class Granite Staters?”

There were a few Democratic counter-punches. Shaheen and other Democratic senators attended a meeting with Obama where they expressed concerns about the health care law’s rollout. And the New Hampshire Democratic Party went after Ayotte for recounting what her office described as “heartbreaking New Hampshire Obamacare stories” on the Senate floor.

“Where is Ayotte’s compassion for New Hampshire’s uninsured working families? Why isn’t her heart breaking for them as they struggle to make ends meet?” said party spokesman Harrell Kirstein in a statement. “It is shameful that Sen. Ayotte continues to play partisan games with people’s health care.”

Join the club

Roll Call thinks Shea-Porter should expect a tight race next fall in the 1st District.

The three-term Democrat made the Capitol Hill newspaper’s list of the top 10 most vulnerable House members of 2014.

“Perhaps more so than any other House member in the country, Shea-Porter is at the mercy of the national political mood,” the newspaper noted.

Frank Guinta and Dan Innis are set to battle for the GOP nomination to face Shea-Porter next November.

Revenue dip

State revenue dipped in October, but four months into fiscal 2014, the overall fiscal picture is still rosy.

The general and education funds took in $105.1 million in October, $2 million less than expected, according to the Department of Administrative Services. Business taxes led the slump, coming in $4.4 million below projections for the month.

But for the first four months of the fiscal year, the state is still $24.9 million above plan in terms of revenue. Business taxes are 4 percent above expectations, the meals-and-rooms tax is up 3.3 percent, the real estate transfer tax is up 12.3 percent, and the insurance tax is up a whopping 36.4 percent.

Short takes

∎ The 11th Annual Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Awards ceremony will be held Tuesday, noon, in Manchester. George Stephanopoulos from ABC News is the keynote speaker, and The Telegraph of Nashua is winning this year’s award.

∎ The New Hampshire Democratic Party’s 2013 Jefferson Jackson Dinner will be Saturday night in Manchester.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, is the headliner.

∎ Shaheen and Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia will be at the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord tomorrow afternoon to talk up their bill to move the federal government to a biennial budget process — just like New Hampshire’s.

∎ Matt Mowers was announced last week as the new executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party. He comes from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s successful re-election campaign; Christie is said to be exploring a presidential run in 2016.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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