Even though he hasn't declared whether he will run for Senate in 2013 if Democratic Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is confirmed as secretary of state, former Republican senator Scott Brown offered a preview this week of how he would attack Democratic frontrunner and longtime Rep. Ed Markey.

Brown’s criticism hit close to home. Literally.

“You got Ed Markey: Does he even live here any more?” Brown asked during a Wednesday radio interview, adding that he’s never run into the congressman on an airplane during his many trips back to the Bay State from Washington.

The jab earned prominent front-page treatment in Thursday’s Boston Globe, suggesting that Markey’s residency and how much time he spends away from Massachusetts could become focal points in the race to replace Kerry. The congressman has faced similar attacks in previous campaigns, but never in a statewide race against a high-profile Republican like Brown, who frequently touts his own Bay State roots. 

Rep. Ed Markey (D). (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Before looking at how the issue might play in the campaign, it’s necessary to understand the background on Markey’s residency situation.

Markey has long claimed his childhood home in Malden, Mass., as his Bay State residence. As the Globe noted, after his father died in 2000, Markey bought the house and maintained it as his voting address.

But the congressman also owns a home in the D.C. suburb of Chevy Chase, Md., where critics charge he spends too much time. 

It's all been fodder for opponents in the past. Markey's 2010 opponent filmed a Web video in the congressman's Malden neighborhood featuring local residents saying they never see him there, the Globe noted

But such attacks have never been enough to unseat Markey. He’s been in the House since 1976. Now, in his effort to join the Senate, Markey has the support of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, Kerry, and Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late senator Ted Kennedy. They are all hopeful that Markey can avoid a bruising primary, with the threat of Brown looming.

One Democrat suggested that Brown may be overplaying his hand, opening his own non-Massachusetts connections — including service in the Maryland National Guard and his wife’s Washington-area job — up to scrutiny. 

“While [Brown] threw the first punch, he got hit back just as hard,” Mary Anne Marsh, a neutral Democratic strategist, told The Fix.

Recent history has shown residency issues can be prickly matters in campaigns. Handled well, they become secondary concerns. Handled poorly, they can sink candidates.

In 2012, then-Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) allowed a story about his voter registration being tied to an Indiana house he sold in 1977 to linger for months, fueling a narrative that he had lost touch with constituents. At one point, an aide to the senator even compared Lugar’s situation to that of military personnel, stoking already hard feelings among some voters. 

On the other hand, attacks about being out of touch and spending too much time away from the state don’t have to be knockout blows. Indiana GOP Sen. Dan Coats’s 2010 Senate comeback bid is a good example. Democrats assailed the Republican for being registered to vote in Virginia and buying a House in North Carolina. It didn’t work well enough to prevent Coats from winning a second stint in the Senate. 

It’s too early to jump to conclusions about whether Markey will fall victim to his living situation or whether it will become an afterthought in the campaign. For its part, Markey's campaign quickly pushed back against Brown's broadsides. 

"Scott Brown has not yet announced that he is running for Senate, but he is already launching false, personal attacks from the sidelines. Ed Markey lives in Malden, and has lived there his entire life. He and his wife own their home in Malden," Markey spokeswoman Giselle Barry said in a statement. Markey's campaign noted that he took 34 round trips between Washington and Massachusetts in 2012. 

In both 2010 and 2012, Brown made a concerted effort to portray himself as the candidate in better touch with Massachusetts voters than his Democratic opponent. He can be expected to do it again if he runs in 2013. It worked against Martha Coakley (thanks in large part to her missteps), but fell short against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D). A third round may be coming soon.