Scott Brown backs Hawaii, Pennsylvania Republicans in House special elections

Sen. Scott Brown is aiding Republicans in Hawaii and Pennsylvania.
Sen. Scott Brown is aiding Republicans in Hawaii and Pennsylvania. (Harry Hamburg/associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza
Monday, May 3, 2010

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) knows a little something about special elections.

After chalking up a stunning win in the race to replace the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D) earlier this year, he is hoping to use his star power to help House Republicans bring home two special-election victories this month.

Brown has written a letter to his list of Hawaii donors for Honolulu City Council member Charles Djou, the Republican candidate in the state's 1st Congressional District. Brown will also travel to southwestern Pennsylvania this month in support of businessman Tim Burns's campaign for that state's 12th District seat. Brown will appear at two events for Burns on May 14: a fundraiser in Canonsburg, Pa., and a rally in Washington, Pa.

"While his focus remains on his official Senate responsibilities and serving the people of Massachusetts, Senator Brown has a unique understanding of the dynamics of special elections," said his communications director, Gail Gitcho.

National Republicans view the Pennsylvania race on May 18 and the Hawaii contest four days later as ripe opportunities to capture two seats held by Democrats and build momentum for the November midterm elections.

Polling suggests that both Djou (who is running against two Democrats -- former congressman Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa) and Burns (whose Democratic opponent is former congressional staffer Mark Critz) are well within range of winning. But Republicans have struggled to come out on top in similar races recently, with Democrats emerging victorious in five straight competitive House special elections dating to 2008.

Brown's decision to wade into the two House races makes their national import clear. After his Jan. 19 victory over state Attorney General Martha Coakley, he has largely avoided the big stage, choosing instead to begin shoring himself up in advance of what is likely to be a difficult 2012 reelection race.

He has turned down scads of endorsement and appearance requests from Republicans around the country who are seeking to tap into the political lightning in a bottle he captured in January. Brown's only out-of-state endorsement before the Hawaii and Pennsylvania special elections was of Sen. John McCain, an early proponent of his candidacy who is embroiled in a difficult Republican primary race in Arizona against former congressman J.D. Hayworth.

Brown has endorsed several candidates in Massachusetts, however, including businessman Charlie Baker for governor; state Rep. Jeff Perry for the open seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D); state Rep. Richard Ross, who is running for Brown's old state Senate seat; and Dan Winslow, Brown's campaign attorney and a candidate for state representative this fall. (Winslow has a hilarious send-up of Brown's famous "truck" ad that features the lawyer riding around the district on his bicycle.)

Unlike most ambitious politicians with a national profile, Brown has yet to form a leadership political action committee that would allow him to travel the country and donate to aspiring candidates. But Brown, who raised an eye-popping $15 million for his special-election campaign, is still sitting on nearly $6 million in his campaign account, according to reports filed late last month with the Federal Election Commission, and is widely regarded as the most coveted Republican surrogate in the country.

While Brown insists his focus is on winning a full term in 2012 and supporting the likely presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, his star power and the challenge of holding a seat in a strongly Democratic state could well force a rethinking of that plan -- and a move to the national stage -- at some point soon.

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