GOP's Brown branded turncoat for jobs bill vote
BOSTON—A month after being crowned the darling of national conservatives, Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts is being branded "Benedict Brown" for siding with Democrats in favor of a jobs bill endorsed by the Obama administration.
Like the four other GOP senators who joined him, the man who won the late Democrat Edward Kennedy's seat says it's about jobs, not party politics. And that may be good politics, too.
The four other GOP senators who broke ranks -- Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, George Voinovich of Ohio and Christopher "Kit" Bond of Missouri -- also were criticized on Tuesday. But Brown was the big target on conservative Web sites, talk shows and even the Facebook page his campaign has promoted as an example of his new-media savvy.
"We campaigned for you. We donated to your campaign. And you turned on us like every other RINO," said one writer, using the initials for "Republican-In-Name-Only."
The conservative-tilting Drudge Report colored a photo of Brown on its home page in scarlet.
The new senator responded by calling into a Boston radio station.
"I've taken three votes," Brown said with exasperation. "And to say I've sold out any particular party or interest group, I think, is certainly unfair."
The senator said that by the time he seeks re-election in two years, he will have taken thousands of votes.
"So, I think it's a little premature to say that," he said.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky wasn't particularly perturbed about Brown's vote, saying his election last month has "made a huge, positive difference for us and for the whole legislative agenda."
"We don't expect our members to be in lockstep on every single issue," McConnell added.
Political observers said each of the five Republican senators had solid reasons locally for voting as they did, to cut off a potential Republican filibuster on the bill.
The measure featured four provisions that enjoyed sweeping bipartisan support, including a measure exempting businesses hiring the unemployed from Social Security payroll taxes through December, and giving them a $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year. It would also renew highway programs through December and deposit $20 billion in the highway trust fund.
It faces a final Senate vote Wednesday.
Snowe and Collins hail from economically ailing Maine, and they can't stray too far from the Democrats who populate much of New England. And Voinovich and Bond also are from states hard hit by the recession.
The latter two also have the ultimate protection from retribution: They're not seeking re-election this fall.
"When you have decided to retire and you are a free agent, you can pretty much do what you want," said Peverill Squire, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-Columbia. And Squire doubted that Bond, retiring after 24 years in the Senate, would have paid much of a political price even if the famous appropriator were seeking re-election.
"He's had no shyness in trying to send money," he said.
While conservative columnist Michelle Malkin used her blog to accuse Voinovich of being a traitor, even suggesting he got some unspecified goody for his vote in favor of the "porkulus" bill, Ohio's governor defended him.
Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, praised the senator for "standing with the people of Ohio over the majority of his party."
For Voinovich, a Republican from a Democratic stronghold, the party defection was nothing new. The two-time Ohio governor and former Cleveland mayor has sprinkled his political career with independent votes that can agitate the GOP. Former President George W. Bush famously visited Ohio in 2003 in an attempt to secure Voinovich's support for a tax cut package.
Voinovich still voted no.
Snowe and Collins, meanwhile, "survive in New England by a unique set of rules," said Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
He said: "The way they survive with voters in their homes states is by making it clear that, first and foremost, they're the servants of their constituencies, not the party label. So, they'll make a point of defying their party and going their own way."
Brown got little such leeway, despite campaigning as an "independent Republican" and publicly eschewing national supporters.
National Republican groups, as well as "tea party" members and an array of conservative special interests, all claimed a share of the credit for his upset win in the battle to succeed the legendary Kennedy.
They felt especially justified after funneling millions to Brown's campaign, including $348,000 on late television ads paid by the California-based Tea Party Express.
"You've already turned out to be as big an idiot as Obama," said one Facebook poster. "Enjoy your one term as senator."
One local political scientist believes the vote was anything but dumb, considering Brown faces re-election in less than three years.
"Scott Brown knows that he's going to be judged differently in 2012 than he was in 2010," said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at the senator's alma mater, Tufts University. "He's facing a different electorate, with more Democratic voters, and Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, in what is still a blue state."
Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth in Ohio; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; David Lieb and Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo., and; Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.