Clarence Fanto: What can Brown do for an encore?



Here's a textbook example of why conventional, or prevailing, or received wisdom -- whatever term you prefer -- should always be greeted with intense scrutiny. As his presumed opponents bow out one by one, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey is looking more and more like the Democratic sure shot for the nomination to the U.S. Senate seat about to be vacated by the likely next secretary of state, John Kerry. That's a safe bet.

After his Senate confirmation hearing next Thursday, Kerry should sail into the crucial Cabinet post and resign his Senate seat by the end of the month -- another sure shot. Gov. Deval Patrick will appoint a caretaker who won't run in the special election in June -- former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank is publicly angling for the temporary job -- and voters will face another wearisome contest in a year that could have been an election-free zone.


Until recently, pundits and pols have taken it for granted that now-unemployed ex-Sen. Scott Brown will seek his old job as the odds-on favorite to win -- one recent poll showed him with an 18-point advantage over Markey.

Not so fast. Several well-placed commentators and reporters are touting a very different scenario, one that has Brown bypassing a Senate race in favor of a bid for governor next year to succeed Patrick, who won't run again.

This notion was first floated by MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell, who pontificates from his late-evening perch with the demeanor of a well-connected political insider. That he is. The native Bostonian was ensconced on Capitol Hill from 1989-95 as an aide to the late and great U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the New York Democrat who chaired the Senate Finance Committee during President Clinton's first term. O'Donnell was in the catbird seat as staff director of the committee before moving on to Hollywood as producer and writer for NBC's "The West Wing."

O'Donnell, a self-described "European socialist," has plenty of credibility on Capitol Hill politics. Thus, on his Jan. 8 "The Last Word" telecast, he declared: "You heard it here first, which is to say you're hearing it right now -- Scott Brown probably won't even run against Ed Markey. Brown would be much happier running for governor when Deval Patrick leaves office next year, a race Brown would have a much better chance of winning, and a job he would love. I mean, love, compared to the Senate, which according to my sources he doesn't really like."

O'Donnell blasted Brown for excoriating Markey on a Boston radio talk show as a pol who ignores his home district in Malden, where he grew up and still owns a home to which he returns frequently. "Eddie has done so good a job representing his hometown and his district that Republicans sometimes can't find candidates to run against him," the MSNBC host insisted, feigning a Beantown accent. "So Scott Brown, I got news for ‘ya. Yeah, Ed Markey still lives here and he is like so from around here that you'd have to debate him on policy if you screw up the courage to run against him."

On Monday afternoon, the highly-regarded Politico web site, which features widely-quoted Washington coverage, weighed in by reporting in a news article that "there are compelling reasons for Brown to pass on what would be his third Senate campaign in four years -- and he's thinking long and hard about them." One of the most compelling arguments is that even if Brown were to enter and win the special election for the Senate in late spring, he would have to run all over again in 2014, as Kerry's term expires. Of course, that would be his fourth race in four years, and a loss could doom his political career.

Politico reported that Brown is agonizing over his decision and quoted Kerry Healey, who was Mitt Romney's lieutenant governor and is now on the Republican National Committee, as acknowledging that "there's a lot of appeal to waiting for the governor's seat." Moderate Republicans have a strong track record on Beacon Hill -- former Gov. William Weld captured 71 percent of the vote in his 1994 re-election campaign. He has moved back to Massachusetts, waiting in the wings for a potential Senate run if Brown decides to bide his time.

An added incentive for Brown to bypass the Senate race is that, so far, the Democratic field to succeed Patrick as governor looks weak. Lieut. Gov. Tim Murray is said to be keen on running -- good luck with that.

As an independent Republican who didn't toe the right-wing line on Capitol Hill, Brown has lost some luster among the deep-pocketed tea-party types who helped fund his 2010 special-election campaign and his losing race against Elizabeth Warren last year. With Democrats holding a 55-45 margin in the Senate now, the Massachusetts seat held by Kerry is not seen as a make-or-break win for the GOP.


With all that said, there's still considerable pressure on Brown from state Republicans to declare his intention to run for the Senate. As he spent last Friday morning cleaning out his garage -- "ugh!" he tweeted -- the prospect of gainful political employment sooner rather than later must be enticing.

All the noodling about Brown's political future amounts to interesting speculation, but it's a far cry from wisdom, conventional or otherwise. Within a couple of weeks -- after Kerry submits his letter of resignation -- we'll know the outcome of the former senator's wrenching deliberations. As it should be, it will be Brown, not O'Donnell, Politico nor other representatives of the Beltway "chattering classes," who will have the last word.

Clarence Fanto, a regular Eagle contributor, can be reached at


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