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What Brown can do for you

Politics | Traditional values groups find Scott Brown as an imperfect candidate who could both win a blue state and advance their interests

Issue: "The Haiti quake," Feb. 13, 2010

BOSTON and WASHINGTON-Toward the end of last year, Boston sports station WEEI was getting daily phone calls from a guy named Scott Brown. They brushed him off. Same story at WTKK, Boston conservative talk radio. "He would call on the hotline and we'd be like, 'Aw, it's Scott Brown again,'" said Tom Shattuck, a producer at the station. "Scott Brown made for bad radio. No one cared about the Senate race."

Shattuck related this story to me in a packed ballroom of sweating and exuberant Brown supporters in Boston minutes before Democrat Martha Coakley called to concede to the Republican state senator in one of the biggest political upsets in recent memory. Coakley, the state's attorney general, watched her 30-point advantage to inherit the late Ted Kennedy's seat evaporate in the space of a month as Brown, from Wrentham, Mass., a town of 11,000, surged to victory by 5 points. Coakley didn't lose because of bad turnout either-for a snowy election day turnout was as high as the 2006 election, when Kennedy won reelection and masses turned out to vote for the state's first black governor, Deval Patrick. Even Kennedy's hometown of Hyannis voted for Brown.

While the Boston sports announcers and talk radio hosts may not have cared about Brown until very recently (along with the rest of the country), he has had supporters for a race like this from the pro-life community since before he entered the state Senate-even though Brown is pro-abortion. He supports Roe v. Wade as the "law of the land," but he opposes both federal funding for abortion and partial-birth abortion. He supports laws regarding parental consent for minors to receive abortions and in 2005 he put forward a "conscientious objector" amendment in the state Senate to protect the religious freedom of hospital workers, which was defeated. He supports same-sex civil unions but opposes same-sex marriage.

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Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), met Brown seven years ago while he was on the campaign trail. While Mineau's group opposes legal abortion and same-sex civil unions, Mineau told me: "We liked what we saw." From Mineau's perspective, a legislator can't overturn Roe v. Wade, so he supports candidates who will defend the unborn in what ways they can-like banning partial-birth abortion or requiring parental notification for minors seeking abortion. MFI and Mineau never endorsed Brown because of the restrictions involving the group's nonprofit status, but the organization's separate political arm did help Brown.

While Mineau saw potential in Brown in 2003, another Massachusetts pro-life group refused to endorse him seven years ago. Massachusetts Citizens for Life is the oldest pro-life group in the state, formed in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade was decided. The organization has endorsed losing Senate candidates, including Mitt Romney in his 1994 Senate run against Ted Kennedy, but in 2010 it endorsed a winner: Brown. The organization didn't just endorse him-its political arm made 440,000 phone calls, sent out 175,000 mailers, and ran radio ads, according to the chair of its political action committee, John Rowe.

"The difference in the candidates is stark," Rowe said, defending the organization's support for a pro-abortion candidate as necessary to defeat a more radical abortion advocate in Martha Coakley.

There is a twist. In the Republican primary in December, Brown was up against a self-titled pro-life candidate, lawyer Jack Robinson. However, Robinson created a dilemma for traditional values groups because he supports same-sex marriage. Mineau waved him off as a "political gadfly," saying Robinson changed his positions to suit the race. Massachusetts Citizens for Life didn't get behind Robinson.

So the candidate who was then known principally as the guy who at age 22 posed nude for a Cosmopolitan centerfold and paid his way through law school by modeling-Brown-won the Dec. 8 GOP primary. Martha Coakley won the Democratic primary with the assumption that she would float into final victory. With the Jan. 19 special election just over a month away, she went on vacation, and some of her volunteers said they took a break, too.

Scott Brown was calling radio stations and driving around the state in his now-famous truck asking for votes. On New Year's Day he stood outside Fenway Park, which was hosting its first-ever hockey game, shaking hands. Other conservative activists coalesced behind him, including several Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots, which had opposed Republican Dede Scozzafava in a New York special election months earlier because she wasn't conservative enough.

Overall, Brown had made 66 campaign stops while Coakley made 19. Over a week before the election, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm, showed Brown up by 1 point. Democrats rushed to protect Coakley, sending millions of dollars for ads and calling in political stars. Coakley jetted down to Washington to raise money from lobbyists, and when she was asked why she went there in the heat of the race, she responded, "As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold?"

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