Scott Brown carries the weight of great GOP expectations to D.C.

By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 22, 2010; 10:30 AM

Scott Brown left the truck back in Massachusetts.

At 9:30 on Thursday morning, the Republican state senator arrived by US Airways shuttle at Reagan National Airport, though he rode a GMC-driving everyman image and a wave of Tea Party-stoked, establishment-financed frustration into the U.S. Senate seat of Jack and Teddy Kennedy. Looking fresh and fit, he stepped out of Gate 43 for his crash-course introduction to official Washington.

"You know, I'm a routine guy, I like getting up and walking the dogs and getting a good workout, going down to the local diner for a good breakfast," said Brown in his first interview upon arriving in Washington. "Coming here and disrupting my routine, the transition is just a little bit overwhelming."

Everyone in town wanted a sense of this 41st Republican senator whose out-of-the-Massachusetts-blue victory had deprived the Democrats of their filibuster-proof majority, disordered a health-care overhaul a year in the making and inflicted a gaping wound into the ambitious Obama agenda. He had used the time in the air to prep for meetings with the most powerful men in the U.S. Senate. Democratic leaders including Harry Reid and John Kerry, now desperate for a swing vote, wanted to believe the hype that he was his own man. The Republican leaders, such as John McCain and Mitch McConnell, were simply elated that he had arrived and was one of them.

For all of Brown's studied out-of-towner modesty, he couldn't have looked more the part of Washington lawmaker, as he disembarked and greeted luggage-toting well-wishers. He wore a gray suit, navy tie spotted with red horseshoes, and a blue shirt with a Polo Ralph Lauren emblem hidden behind his lapel. The 50-year-old's full head of hair achieved salt-and-pepper perfection and his voice never rose above a muted register.

His prior visits to Washington, he explained, were mostly to watch his daughter Ayla, a college basketball player, play against American University, or to visit the monuments "as a tourist."

"I'm a history buff," he said. "I love the Museum of Natural History."

Tough beginnings

"Senator-elect?" a guard at the Russell Senate Office Building called over to Brown later in the morning, as the man of the day started emptying his pockets at the metal detector. "You can come right this way."

Brown apparently couldn't believe he was part of the country's most exclusive club.

Raised in Wakefield, Mass., Brown's parents divorced when he was a year old, and each has gone on to divorce three other people. A changing cast of relatives and stepparents raised him, and he stole a Black Sabbath record as a 12-year-old that led him, so the campaign mythology goes, to get shamed straight by a beneficent judge.

After he got a Boston College law degree, he married Gail Huff, an actress who was known in Boston as the bikini-clad woman in an early-'80s Digney Fignus music video, "The Girl With the Curious Hand." In the video, Huff's curious hand poisons a drink and squirts suntan lotion in the air. ("It means different things to different people," Fignus said in an interview.) Huff is now a well-known newscaster on the Boston ABC affiliate.

Brown rose steadily from town assessor to town selectman, and with the help of Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, to state senator, always in the tiny Republican minority. "Scott's going to think he died and went to heaven because he went from four Republican colleagues to 40," said the Republican leader in the state Senate, Richard Tisei, who is part of a close-knit quintet that calls themselves the Band of Brothers. For years, the Republicans would take an annual retreat up to the Red Lion Inn in the Berkshires where they'd talk shop and knock back beers.

"Thanks bro," Brown texted State Sen. Michael Knapik, another Republican friend, in reply to his message of congratulations on the night of his victory.

State Sen. Robert Hedlund, another member of the brotherhood, said that he felt a special kinship with Brown because they both drove motorcycles, though, he gibed, "I own a Harley and he owns a bike."

Recently, Hedlund took Brown to a concert by the Psychedelic Furs ("He had a blast," Hedlund said), and, because Hedlund is a bachelor, he admits he's looking forward to visiting his famously handsome friend in the Capitol. "He makes even a better wingman now," Hedlund said. "We have to make some road trips down to D.C."

Family guy

Brown has what might be called stand-up dude appeal. Voters liked that he was an athlete, could talk about last night's game and called into sports talk-radio shows that enthusiastically campaigned for him every morning. They liked that despite his lantern-jaw good looks, he was not a pretty boy, and is a committed family man. With Huff, Brown has two daughters: Arianna, a pre-med student at Syracuse University, and Ayla, a former competitor on "American Idol," who promoted her father's candidacy on her Web site below plugs for her own career ("Ayla's highly anticipated new CD 'Circles.' ").

In 2007, Brown demonstrated his zeal for protecting his family's honor in an incident that caused local controversy. Joseph Ferreira, an American history teacher in a local school, took issue with Brown's vote opposing the legalization of gay marriage. Word got back to Brown and, according to Ferreira, the state senator demanded equal time to explain his position. An assembly was convened, but when Brown took the stage his agenda had changed. He had discovered that students had attacked him and one of his daughters on Facebook, and he decided to read the offending passages out loud.

"He was using the F-bomb," said Ferreira, who said Brown falsely accused him of threatening the grades of students who disagreed with his ideology. "My department chair cut him off after about 20 minutes."

Brown raised eyebrows again during his victory speech on Tuesday evening, when he joked that his two attractive daughters were "available."

Glenn Beck, a hero of the Tea Party movement, expressed disgust at the remark and said Brown should be fitted with a chastity belt before "it could end up with a dead intern."

"That's just dad being dad," Brown explained in the interview. "For anyone to think that I would want to have anything bad happen to my daughters, it's abhorrent to think that."

Asked about Beck's reply, he added: "You know, name calling and all that stuff? I'm way past that."

Welcome tour

Sen.-elect Brown navigated the Russell Senate Office Building on Thursday for his first appointment with Sen. John McCain.

A National Guardsman, Brown said in the interview that McCain was his senatorial model. "I have great respect for Senator McCain," Brown said of the Arizona Republican, who was one of his first establishment backers. "I've known him for a while, long before this, and you know he is a war hero and kind of a maverick independent thinker."

He added, "I've told my leadership already that I'm not a rubber stamp for anybody."

A retinue of four dozen cameramen and scribes shuffled around Brown and packed into McCain's office. "Next time Senator Brown comes we'll have to reserve a caucus room," McCain said below a large mirror. "We Republicans need to expand into the Northeast and other parts of the country," he added a few minutes later. To Brown, seated to McCain's right, the news media shouted out questions about health care, bipartisanship and even his prospective residence.

"Senator! Senator!" they all shouted. McCain grimaced and held up his hands to slow them down.

After their photo op, McCain walked Brown down the hall to the office of John F. Kerry.

"You just go right through there," he said about 20 feet from the door. "See ya!"

McCain then walked unnoticed back to his office. He said that Brown had hit a nerve of anger with the government and was a "worthy successor" for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. "A real straight guy," he said. He also suggested that he wasn't bothered by Brown's apparent closeness to Romney, whom McCain famously cannot stand.

"I understand why people in Massachusetts were loyal to Romney," he said, laughing.

In Kerry's office, the Democratic senior Massachusetts senator, surrounded by pictures of himself in military uniform, on a ski slope, standing next to John Lennon, announced that at the beginning of his own tenure, Ted Kennedy wrote to him: "As Humphrey Bogart once said, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.'" He then spoke admiringly of Brown before the cameras.

After a private talk, Brown and Kerry stepped into the hall and quickly ducked back into the office. Brown came back out holding a folded piece of paper scribbled with Kerry's cell number.

"I'd love to," Brown said. "You can count on that."

Kerry hung outside and said: "I take him at his word. He said he is going to represent Massachusetts and is going to look and see what is best for Massachusetts. If he does that, he could be a good senator and a good partner. And the test will be in how he approaches each vote."

Asked if he was optimistic, Kerry said, "I'm hopeful," and closed the door. Brown and the media paraded to his next meeting in the office Kennedy had long occupied but is now used by Sen. Paul Kirk, who was sworn in as Kennedy's replacement a month after his death. The white walls of the back office were bare and the bookcases had been emptied.

His own man

Being a "Scott Brown Republican," as the senator-elect calls himself, remains open to interpretation. And he expressed reluctance to be associated even with the groups that helped elect him, like the Glenn Beck-adoring Tea Party activists.

"There may be members of a certain group that supported me," he said in the interview as his momentous day began. "But I had supporters from every walk of life. And to focus on one specific group is a disservice to the campaign -- it's inclusiveness in making sure that everyone has a voice."

Eric Fehrnstrom, Brown's political adviser, said that the flight attendant on the plane from Boston had announced the plane's special passenger and that everyone applauded.

"Very proud of you," said a guy in a baseball cap and bluejeans. "You did an awesome job."

A blond woman said hello. "I have to tell you I'm a fellow athlete," she said offering her hand.

"You can tell by the handshake," Brown replied.

"I was thinking as I was on my trainer the other day," she said . . .

"Do you have a stationary trainer or rollers?" Brown interrupted.

The woman turned to her young children. "Do you remember when I said it was a big day today because Massachusetts voted for a Republican? Can you believe it?" she said.

Brown and his aides walked to the airport exit, where the first television cameras awaited. A reporter from the TMZ Web site, which has made much of the senator-elect's much-discussed 1982 nude centerfold from Cosmopolitan magazine, asked whether he was "bringing sexy back to the Republican Party," Brown politely answered, "Happy to be here."

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