The New Hampshire Republican Senate primary has a new front-runner: Scott Brown.
But that doesn't mean Brown -- who is launching a Senate exploratory committee -- will clear the primary without any worries. And not for the reason you've probably read about most, which is that he recently moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, opening him up to charges of carpetbagging. (To understand why the carpetbagging stuff won't be as big a deal as other things, read this December conversation The Fix had with WMUR's James Pindell.)
His bigger problems are guns and abortion. The former in particular, could pose a headache given how big an issue it is in the Granite State. Of course, Brown also has some strong selling points -- including his ability to raise big bucks.
Below we take a look at Brown's three biggest weaknesses and strengths in the GOP primary, should he decide to turn his exploratory committee into a full-fledged campaign (which is really a distinction without a difference).
Brown came out in support of a federal assault weapons ban in late-2012, reversing his previous position that it should be left to the states. He's already faced protests from gun-rights advocates. The protests received national and local coverage. Former senator Bob Smith (R), who is likely Brown's main competition for the nomination and has already been hitting him, is to the right of Brown on guns.
Brown is an abortion-rights Republican, even though you'd hardly know it the way Democrats slammed him for supporting the Blunt Amendment during his 2012 campaign. Once again, Smith is to Brown's right on this issue and opposes abortion. Yes, New Hampshire is a more moderate state than most. But conservative candidates have found some success here, especially in primaries. Recall in the last midterm, conservative Ovide Lamontagne nearly defeated now-Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in a crowded field.
3. The opportunist label
A challenge for Brown is to convince Republican voters he is genuinely interested in being a U.S. senator from New Hampshire, not a political opportunist who was looking for the best path back to elected office/the national stage. It's not so much Brown moving to New Hampshire that could trip him up -- after all, Smith lived in Florida and ran for the Senate there, so he's in no position to attack -- it's the uncertainty surrounding his future. Since being voted out of the Senate in 2012, Brown has been coy about his next move. He's hinted that he wants to be a bigger voice in he party and has even visited the other early presidential state, Iowa. Brown has to make clear from day one so that voters are convinced he's not just all in, but all in for New Hampshire.
Brown was a prolific fundraiser in his campaigns for the Senate in Massachusetts. He raised a whopping $28 million during his 2012 reelection bid. The reason that number didn't get more attention was that now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the best fundraiser of all the candidates in 2012, pulled in a cool $42 million. New Hampshire is a small state where retail politics matters. But so do money and the ability to advertise in the expensive Boston media market. It's clear that Brown will have a major leg up on the competition in the money chase.
2. Name recognition
People don't want to vote for candidates they do not know. Brown is well-known in New Hampshire. Only 4 percent of voters there said they had never heard of him in a recent poll -- compared with 24 percent for Smith. Brown's been making political appearances in the state regularly over the last year and was widely covered in neighboring Bay State ever since his upset victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in 2010. He won't have to worry about voters saying, "Scott who?"
3. Personal appeal
With the battle for the Senate up for grabs, Brown's candidacy, as we've written, may well factor into which party controls the upper chamber next year. With such high stakes, we can expect Brown's pitch to GOP voters to include a case for electability. He'd be able to raise more money in the general election than any other Republican and has strong potential to win moderates over -- for the very same reasons that he could stumble in the primary. Also, Brown has cultivated an every-man image that skyrocketed him to stardom in 2010. That's not a bad thing to have in your back pocket on the trail.