Political newcomer Hudak takes short, unhappy ride on sudden star’s bandwagon

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / January 23, 2010

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It seemed like a solid strategy for Bill Hudak, Republican candidate for the state’s Sixth Congressional seat and a political novice: latch on to the sudden popularity of Scott Brown.

A day after Brown’s improbable election to the US Senate, Hudak announced that the victorious Wrentham Republican had endorsed his candidacy. Hudak released a video featuring him and Brown campaigning together. In it, he mentions the name Scott Brown six times in just over a minute.

The strategy has backfired. Badly.

And the aftermath has inserted an unfortunate wrinkle into an otherwise glorious week for Brown, whose defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley brought him national fame as a candidate for the people and a barrier-breaker in a state that almost always votes Democrat. It also served as a harbinger of challenges Brown faces as politicians attempt to draw on his sudden status as the face of the Republican Party.

The brouhaha began Thursday, when Brown denied he had made an endorsement. That came as several political blogs cited news reports from the 2008 presidential campaign, when Hudak erected a poster on his lawn in Boxford that depicted Barack Obama as Osama Bin Laden.

According to the reports, Hudak voiced an argument popular among far-right Republicans at the time that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore could not serve as president.

Hudak initially brushed aside the reports and denied he was a birther, as supporters of the argument are called. He insisted that Brown had endorsed him, and accused the senator-elect’s advisers of backpedaling.

But Hudak issued an apology yesterday and retracted his statement about the endorsement, saying things were “misinterpreted.’’

There are some political ties between the two. Brown had used Hudak’s campaign office as a telephone center, and the two appeared at events together. But Hudak evidently hoped to parlay that into much more, particularly now that Brown’s star is soaring.

It is something Brown is going to have to get used to and deal with.

“There’s going to be a lot of people saying, ‘We helped you win, and we want you to help further our cause,’’ said Dan Mulcare, a political science professor at Salem State College who specializes in American government. “He has a lot of political capital, a lot of legitimacy, and he’s inspired a lot of people in Massachusetts.’’

The Brown campaign would not comment on the back-and-forth yesterday. On Thursday, Brown had asked Hudak to retract his statement about the endorsement. Last night, despite Hudak’s apology, his website still featured the 85-second campaign video.

“Scott Brown has endorsed my campaign, and we need your help today to continue our fight,’’ Hudak says in the video. “I’m running for Congress to continue the momentum that Scott Brown has begun in our state.’’

Hudak kicked off his campaign more than six months ago to challenge the Democratic incumbent, US Representative John F. Tierney, in the Sixth Congressional District, which spans the North Shore. But Hudak’s biggest headlines have come over the last several days.

In an interview yesterday, Hudak did not deny that he had posted pictures depicting the president as bin Laden. He defended the display, saying he had used his First Amendment right as an ordinary citizen to express his feelings. He also repudiated the idea that he was a birther, saying that he had only been quoting reports that Obama was born in Kenya, not stating it as his own belief.

He said his campaign should not be defined by the news reports. “I think you should judge me for what I stand for,’’ he said.

On the campaign trail, Hudak said in the interview, Brown pledged to support him, a promise Hudak now says that he mistook for an official endorsement. In the euphoria following Brown’s election, Hudak put out a press release which attributed these words to Brown: “Bill was with us from the beginning and is the representative the people of the Sixth District need.’’

The Brown camp denied that the senator-elect had said that. And yesterday, Hudak apologized for releasing quotations “that were attributed to, but not made by’’ Brown, while also maintaining that Brown had promised to support him.

“I look forward to taking Scott up on his pledge to help me, but will let him dictate when that support should be communicated,’’ Hudak said in a statement.

Brown’s refusal to publicly endorse Hudak suggests he is moving with caution before throwing the weight of his popularity behind any candidate.

State Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., the House minority leader, said the Republican Party is expecting a rush of candidates seeking to capitalize on Brown’s success. The goal, he said, will be to assess the best candidates to support. He commended Hudak for his “aggressive campaign’’ but stopped short of saying he would get that support.

“You have to look at the people who choose to run and who has the best campaign,’’ he said

Milton Valencia can be reached at