Fiscal Cliff Poses Challenge for Scott Brown

Scott Brown might not have to look long for a new job.

Despite the Republican's nearly double-digit November loss to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, the soon-to-be-former senator from Massachusetts has two potential chances to return to statewide office. The first and best opportunity would come in a special election if Democrat John Kerry is tapped to for President Obama's Cabinet. If Kerry remains in the Senate, Brown could run instead for the Bay State's open office of governor in 2014.

Before Brown gets a chance at either type of comeback, though, he'll need to navigate the complications of the lame-duck Congress. A fiscal-cliff agreement, expected to include tax hikes and entitlement cuts, would put him in an awkward position. Voting "no" might cripple his reputation as a pragmatic centrist and alienate the moderates needed to win any statewide election in blue Massachusetts. But saying "yes" would anger Republicans.

Brown has stayed quiet about his intentions — his office declined to comment for this and other articles about his future. But he indicated last month that he wants to fulfill his promise as a centrist in fiscal-cliff negotiations. "I'm hopeful, being that bipartisan guy, that I can continue to bring people together and look at way to solve the country's problems," Brown said at a news conference.

Democrats are plain in their desire for Brown to vote against a deal because of the potential political baggage. His upset election in January 2010 to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat and his Senate career since then have rested on the premise that he is not beholden to bosses in either party. It is an image he has maintained to great success: Even in the days before his defeat, Brown's approval rating remained above 50 percent.

Frank Perullo, a Boston-based Democratic strategist, said voting for a cliff deal could burnish Brown's image."It's a big opportunity for him to prove he is still an independent, not just a drone for [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell."

If Kerry becomes Obama's secretary of State or Defense and Brown runs for his seat, possible Democratic rivals include Reps. Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, and Edward Markey. Martha Coakley, the Democratic attorney general Brown defeated in 2010, is more interested in a gubernatorial bid, while popular Gov. Deval Patrick — perhaps Brown's most daunting potential opponent — has also ruled out a Senate run.

Democrats say the circumstances of a special election mean Brown would start out as the clear favorite. The older, whiter electorate is starkly different from that of a general election and far more favorable to a Republican. And the timing of a special election, possibly as soon as late spring, means that Brown's near-universal name I.D. will be a huge asset.

"My guess is no member of the [Democratic] congressional delegation has visibility approaching 50 percent of what Brown's is," said Larry DiCara, another Democratic strategist in Boston. "In a special election, with a short period time, it's very tough to increase visibility. And people won't pull the lever for someone they don't know."