Yvonne Abraham

Odds tilting to Brown

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / March 6, 2011

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SALEM — After Scott Brown took down Martha Coakley and assumed center stage in our state’s politics, Democrats could at least console themselves with this thought: Surely this who-he from Wrentham was a flash in the pan.

But now they’re facing a far less comforting proposition: The possibility that Brown is unbeatable in 2012.

Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem, considering a challenge to the Republican senator, pondered that notion Friday morning.

“It’s an uphill battle for any Democrat getting into this race,’’ she said, sitting beneath a portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne in a hotel that bears his name.

She was careful to avoid declaring a run this early.

“I am thinking about it,’’ she said. “I’m certainly not dismissing it. It’s a big challenge, especially for someone who has three kids.’’

Driscoll, 44, is a very smart person, and an excellent politician. But hers is arguably the least well-known of the non-household-names considering challenging Brown.

She has been working to change that lately, shaking hands at events in Worcester and Easthampton, and taking strong public stands in support of casinos, and for a law to allow cities and towns to cut the cost of municipal health care by limiting union bargaining rights.

The daughter of a one-time Miss Trinidad and a Navy chef from Lynn, Driscoll left Clearwater, Fla., to play basketball for Salem State University in 1986.

She has been here since. She has two girls and a boy, ages 13, 10, and 8, with her husband, Nick, a union bricklayer whom she met in a political science class.

She’s a veteran of city government, working in planning and community development in Salem and Beverly, and as general counsel in Chelsea. She topped the ticket in her first mayoral race in 2005.

If she runs, Driscoll will use her experience in local government to argue that Washington has lost touch with Main Street.

Put a barn jacket on her, and Driscoll seems eerily similar to another hoops player who took the seat last year. Brown was always talking about how Washington doesn’t understand the little guy.

But he is no longer that guy, Driscoll argues.

“He ran on that,’’ she said. “But you don’t support an extension of unemployment benefits till you get an extension on tax cuts for the rich? It seems like some of his positions are counterintuitive to positions he took in the campaign.’’

But there are other ways in which Brown is no longer the long-shot contender of 2010, none of them good news for Democrats.

He’s now an incumbent with a huge national profile and a $7 million campaign fund that is sure to grow.

And there are his votes in favor of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,’’ and for passage of the new START nuclear arms treaty. Those may have lost him favor with the Tea Party, but they enhance his image as an independent, which is appealing to moderate voters.

Some supporters will be turned off by the fact that the man who vowed to torpedo the health care measure on the campaign trail is now proposing to merely water it down — a change that President Obama supports. But Brown’s pragmatism and willingness to compromise — traits for which his predecessor Ted Kennedy was legendary — will win over others.

Democratic strategists will portray Brown as a flip-flopper with no core. On at least some issues, they’ll be right. But it will be a hard argument to sustain given the broad appeal of his more centrist votes.

Then again, the election is a long way off. And as Brown’s own victory proves, anything can happen.

Keep working on those three-pointers, Mayor Driscoll.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at