Nobody really uses carpetbags anymore, but I am informed by the Internet that in the 1860s, when the term “carpetbagger” was coined to refer to Northerners who moved to the South to find profit in the wake of the Civil War, they were quite the high-fashion accessory. Oh, the envy with which the lowly masses would behold the pimpernel who could store his traveling clothes in a smart carpetbag! These days, if you’re going to seek your fortune, personal or political, far from where you began, you need only bring an abiding love for your adopted home.
Which brings us to Scott Brown, the firm-jawed, amiable politician who was briefly the hero of the tea party after he won a special election in 2010 — until he was beaten rather handily by Elizabeth Warren two years later. Sensing that Massachusetts is just not fertile ground for a Republican, moderate or not, Brown now has cast his gaze northward to New Hampshire. He’s formed an exploratory committee and released a video in which New Hampshirites (you can tell because they’re standing in the snow) beg him to run for Senate and save them from the horrifying nightmare that is being represented by Jeanne Shaheen.
So how is this looking so far? Well, a new poll from American Research Group shows Shaheen, a former governor who remains quite popular, leading by 12 percentage points, a result close to the 13-point lead she had in a recent Suffolk University poll. Back in January, Democratic firm Public Policy Polling had Shaheen with a lead of only three points, while a WMUR/Granite State poll at the time had her ahead of Brown by 10 points. From all those, we can surmise that Shaheen probably has a comfortable though hardly insurmountable lead.
It is not unusual for candidates to move from one district or one state to another to run for office, and they always have to deal with the carpetbagger charge. It isn’t exactly a mortal sin — Hillary Clinton and others have easily swatted it away — but why should it matter? One answer, that the candidate won’t understand the state and its parochial concerns, never was very persuasive to me. The most important thing you want to know about a candidate is whether he’s from your party or not, because that tells you about 95 percent of the decisions he’ll make in office. Whether he can tell you the best way to get from Laconia to Ossipee off the top of his head isn’t really as revealing.
No, I think the real reason we hold something against carpetbaggers is that their willingness to go where they might get elected bespeaks an ambition we find unseemly. We want our politicians to be reluctant, to find politics distasteful and run for office only because their country needs them so darn much. It’s a lie they tell us and that and we demand from them.
The depth of Scott Brown’s Granite State roots should be about the 50th most important thing voters weigh in this race. On the other hand, should he defeat Shaheen, it would leave the Senate with a dearth of members with melodiously rhyming names. Now that’s something to consider.