By Lois Romano
Wednesday, January 20, 2010; A04
Tuesday's upset Republican victory in Massachusetts may well have less to do with ideology and more to do with old-fashioned retail politics: Scott Brown was a charismatic candidate with an old truck, an intriguing narrative and a promise to shake every voter's hand.
The Republican state senator who has claimed the seat long occupied by Democratic lion Edward M. Kennedy:
-- Once posed naked for Cosmopolitan's "America's Sexiest Man" feature to pay for law school;
-- Is married to a Boston television personality;
-- Has a daughter who was a semifinalist in 2007 on "American Idol"; and
-- Was admittedly a wild teenager from a broken home whose mother was briefly on welfare.
A disciplined triathlete who rises at 5 a.m. to train, Brown, 50, calls himself a Type A, driven personality. "I'm always doing something, whether I'm home watching TV, I'm always maybe licking envelopes or writing notes to people," he told the Boston Globe. "If I'm riding my [stationary] bike, I'm reading a newspaper or watching the news."
He is considered one of the more conservative members of the Democratic-led Massachusetts Senate, but he may be hard to pigeonhole in Washington. He supports abortion rights but opposes the procedure some call partial-birth abortion. He supported Massachusetts's health-care reform in 2006, which resembles the U.S. Senate bill passed before Christmas. Yet he has pledged to give Republicans their 41st vote in the Senate to thwart the bill. Brown says it's too costly and will interfere with what Massachusetts already has in place.
Brown opposes same-sex marriage, and one of his big political missteps occurred eight years ago, when he said it was "just not normal" for his Democratic predecessor in the state Senate, a lesbian, to have a baby with her partner. That comment was said to have knocked him off the short list as a potential gubernatorial running mate with Republican Jane Swift. Brown is a lieutenant colonel with the Massachusetts National Guard and a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps. He supported President Obama's troop escalation in Afghanistan but has never been deployed to a war zone.
Brown, a practicing real estate lawyer, launched his successful electoral career in the early '90s, and in the past 10 years he has served in the state legislature and Senate. He has long had a knack for attracting media attention. In 1998, running for state legislator, he pledged to walk, run or ride his bike to every house in the district.
A few years later, he and his wife, Gail Huff, an on-air reporter for WCVB in Boston and a former actress, sat for an "At Home With" interview with the Globe, during which the couple told of riding a tandem bike together in New Hampshire, and of her passion for bargain-hunting at flea markets. They have two daughters, Ayla, the "Idol" contestant and Boston College basketball star, and Arianna, now a pre-med student at Syracuse University.
Brown has said his childhood was rough. His parents divorced when he was young, and he grew up in Wakefield, Mass., living at various times with an aunt and his grandmother. His parents, he has said, were divorced four times each. "I had a weird upbringing. . . . It wasn't the most stable home environment," he once said.
More recently, in an emotional interview, he acknowledged getting arrested when he was 12 for shoplifting. "I was a jerk. I had some issues. You know, I was lost. . . . Mom was always working. . . . There was some violence in there where I would be sticking up for my mom and sisters. . . . One day I was out with some older kids. . . . I had a pair of farmer overalls, and I stuck some records in them. . . . I was walking out, and a guy caught me." He said a judge ordered him to write an essay on how his siblings would feel if he were in jail.
Voters have been drawn to Brown's energetic demeanor and populist message of cutting taxes and reining in the federal government. They interact with him as if he were an old friend trying to get them out of a financial jam. Brown's GMC truck, with nearly 200,000 miles on the odometer, became the symbol of his regular-guy campaign, but experts say he also ran a smart Net-roots effort, mobilizing conservative activists in the same way President Obama energized liberals in 2008.
Last week, Brown managed to raise more than $1 million in a one-day online "money bomb." He also attracted the support of the fiscally conservative grass-roots Tea Party movement, which rails against big government.
Still, it's the truck that hit a sore spot with President Obama, who dismissively told Massachusetts crowds Sunday, "Anyone can own a truck."
Perhaps -- but "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart loved it. Offering a harbinger of what Brown can expect when he gets to Washington, the comedian quipped this week: "The Kennedy legacy goes down to a naked guy who owns a truck."