WASHINGTON-"Gas up the truck! Gas up the truck!" chanted the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd Tuesday night in a Boston ballroom, cheering U.S. Sen.-elect Scott Brown on to Washington after his victory in Massachusetts over Democrat Martha Coakley. Brown's truck, which he drove all over the state to meet voters, became emblematic of the Republican's grassroots, populist campaign.
Stumping for Coakley two days earlier, President Obama made several jabs about the truck, noting that voters should "look under the hood. . . . Forget the truck. Everybody can buy a truck."
But on Tuesday, 52 percent of Massachusetts voters rebuffed Obama's appeal and went for Brown, an attorney and part-time judge advocate general officer who has served in the U.S. Army National Guard for 30 years.
"It all started with me, my truck, and a few dedicated volunteers," Brown said to the surging crowd Tuesday night after Coakley had called to concede. "It ended with Air Force One making an emergency run to Logan."
The day after his victory, Brown was still shaking his head over his upset of the heavily favored, heavily funded Coakley to fill the late Edward Kennedy's seat. He even won Kennedy's hometown of Hyannis.
"If you were to tell me growing up that a guy whose mom was on welfare and parents had some marital troubles, and I had some issues growing up, that a guy from Wrentham would be here standing before you right now and going to Washington, D.C., are you kidding me?" he said with his heavy Massachusetts accent. "It's not only overwhelming, but I can't tell you how proud I am to be here, standing before you all."
After the rowdy election night party in Boston and a day to catch up on sleep, Brown headed to Washington to pay some "courtesy calls" to his new colleagues before he is sworn in. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has declared Brown the unofficial winner, but the Senate is holding off swearing him in until a determination is made on whether to wait for all of the absentee ballots to arrive, which could take over a week.
Brown arrived on Capitol Hill to flashing camera bulbs and hordes of reporters asking questions about pressing national issues like healthcare and climate change as well as where he would live-he said he'd first like "to get an office and a business card." He noted, as questions poured in, "A lot of you don't know me." Indeed, some reporters had to be told which man was Brown as he walked down the hall.
Democrats are already courting Brown as someone they hope will vote with them from time to time-he has stated that he is "beholden to no one." With that declaration of independence, Brown's first visit on the Hill was to the office of Senate "maverick" John McCain (R-Ariz.), who met with the then-Massachusetts state senator months before the election. At the time, McCain told Brown he could win, even though, McCain said Thursday, "It was a bit foolish at the time."
Brown was one of only five Republicans in the Massachusetts state Senate, so he is accustomed to being a part of the minority party, as the GOP is in the U.S. Senate.
Brown, 50, is married to Gail Huff, a television reporter-they have two daughters, Ayla, 21, and Arianna, 19. He's a member of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. He has held public office since 1995, serving as a selectman in Wrentham, Mass., then in the state House, and then in the state Senate. He said Thursday that he would continue living in Massachusetts, because "I want to hug my wife at the end of the day."
The question on many minds is whether Washington will alter the down-to-earth politician, in the vein of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Brown has said no, and when I asked him about coming to the Capitol, he seemed unconcerned about all the expectations riding on him, saying he is "excited to do some touristy stuff."
As Brown came out of McCain's office, he stepped aside from the media pack to talk to a young staffer who called out to him-a family friend from Wrentham. "Hey buddy!" he said, patting the staffer's chest. The staffer said since the election he's had a hard time getting in touch with Brown because his email box is full.
"I've got a lot to learn in the Senate, but I know who I am and I know who I serve," Brown said two nights earlier at his victory party. "I'm Scott Brown, I'm from Wrentham, I drive a truck, and," he pointed to the crowd, "I am nobody's senator but yours."