The people’s seat, a year later | Todd Domke

Deserved popularity

By Todd Domke
January 19, 2011

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RARELY ARE “Republican’’ and “rock star’’ in the same sentence.

However, the GOP can claim Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, ZZ Top, Kid Rock . . . and Senator Scott Brown.

True, Brown is not musical. Indeed, he often sounds monotone. But, on the campaign trail for US Senate, he attracted thousands of excited fans. And when he won a year ago today, millions celebrated nationwide.

That’s understandable. Americans are infracaninophiles — supporters of the underdog.

But more amazing, one year later he’s still one of the most popular pols in Massachusetts — despite being a moderate-to-conservative Republican in this liberal Democratic state.

His popularity irks some Democrats. They don’t understand why the 36 percent of voters who are registered Democrats shouldn’t have 100 percent of our congressional delegation, not just 92 percent.

Some rationalized Brown’s victory as a fluke, arguing he merely beat an inept candidate, Martha Coakley. But how do they rationalize his popularity one year later? Surely voters are not giving him high approval ratings because he continues to not be Martha Coakley.

To understand Brown’s popularity, we should think about certain Democrats. . .

Hillary Clinton . When the former First Lady entered the Senate, she too was a celeb. But instead of using her star power to be a more prominent leader, she stayed low-profile. Deferential to those with seniority, studious on specialized issues, attentive to constituents. . . over time she became a highly respected, influential senator.

She was praised as “a workhorse, not a show horse.’’ Brown is following her example.

He shouldn’t expect liberal praise, but voters are pretty savvy about how pols earn clout.

Barney Frank. After Brown compromised with Frank on Wall Street reform, he was praised by Frank’s Democratic cosponsor in the Senate, Chris Dodd: “Scott Brown has demonstrated how bipartisanship is supposed to work.’’

Republicans argued the bill failed to fix Fannie and Freddie and would cost more than it saved. But most voters, while not reading the 2,300 pages, saw it as additional proof that Brown was, in his words, “an independent kind of guy.’’

John Forbes Kerry. Brown’s contrast with the senior senator — populist versus patrician — makes him more appealing.

Kerry is cosmopolitan; Brown was in Cosmopolitan magazine. Kerry has a yacht; Brown has a pickup. Kerry likes wine; Brown likes beer. (It’s hard to christen a yacht with a six-pack.)

The Senate will likely go Republican in 2012 because twice as many Democrats are up for reelection. Massachusetts voters will increasingly appreciate having a Republican represent our interests — especially with Kerry focused on foreign relations.

Barack Obama. The president wants more civility. And he won election partly because he sounded dispassionate and open-minded. That’s Brown’s style, too.

As Obama slides rightward, he’ll find Brown eager to negotiate. The president could have met Brown halfway upon his send-them-a-message victory, but instead continued with “shock-and-awe statism,’’ as Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana called it.

By contrast, Brown doesn’t seem to have changed much since his election.

He may not have given us a reenactment of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.’’ But at least he doesn’t seem to have gone Washington.

Todd Domke is a Boston-area Republican political analyst, public relations strategist, and author.