Ripped From the Headlines: The Scott Brown Story
From ISIS to Ebola, the New Hampshire GOP candidate always jumps on the news. Is that a good strategy?
If something is in the national headlines, Scott Brown is probably talking about it in New Hampshire.
From the border crisis to ISIS to Ebola, the Republican challenging Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for her seat has run a notably news-of-the-day-focused campaign, jumping on a series of unexpected national issues long before most candidates bring them up. It's a strategy his campaign says is reflective of the seriousness of the issues involved and the overall message about President Obama's failures—but critics call it a kitchen-sink approach to a race that's always been an uphill battle for him.
The most recent example is Ebola. As fears grew among the American public after two nurses contracted the disease, Brown sent a letter Thursday to New Hampshire Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan calling on her to take "every reasonable precaution" to protect the state's residents.
It is "crucially important that we are doing everything we can to prepare now so that we can protect the safety of our healthcare workers and our citizens," he wrote.
He also addressed the issue in a radio interview with Brian Kilmeade on Friday, saying that "we would not be worrying about Ebola right now" if Mitt Romney had won the presidency in 2012.
Candidates across the country are approaching Ebola with caution as more and more attention is paid to it nationally. On one hand, they don't want to be seen as capitalizing on a tragic and fear-inducing situation; on the other, talking about the Ebola-related mistakes made in recent weeks fits easily in to the GOP message of White House incompetence.
In a year when unexpected domestic and global challenges have taken center stage on the campaign trail, Brown has been quick to seize on new developments and wrap them into his larger campaign message. It began this summer when thousands of children showed up at the U.S. border. As Washington debated what to do about the situation, Brown became the first Senate candidate to run a border-themed ad this cycle.
"Thanks to the pro-amnesty policies of President Obama and Sen. Shaheen, we have an immigration crisis on our hands," Brown said in that ad. "But it's time for us to secure the border once and for all, and tell people who try and come here illegally that we intend to enforce the law."
Then, after ISIS beheaded two American journalists later this summer, Brown immediately called for the passports of any American ISIS fighters to be revoked. He spoke about the importance of foreign policy challenges in his speech accepting the GOP Senate nomination in early September, and began advertising on the issue long before other GOP candidates did.
In late September, Brown recorded a direct-to-camera ad on foreign policy, saying Obama and Shaheen "seem confused about the nature of the threat." "Not me," he continues. The following day, he delivered what his campaign billed as a major foreign policy speech in Manchester.
Colin Reed, Brown's campaign manager, said current events have played a role in the race because Brown's campaign is about bringing "new leadership" to Washington.
"The stakes are high in this election, and Scott Brown's running a campaign focused on the important issues of the day," Reed said. "Whether it's immigration or ISIS or energy prices or health care, we face a lot of challenges that require new leadership. President Obama recently said that 'every single one' of his policies are on the ballot, and the Obama policies are the Shaheen policies because she votes with him 99 percent of the time."
Supporters of Brown note that his focus on the headline-making current events of the day fit into that larger narrative—and that with New Hampshire's penchant for being particularly susceptible to the national environment, he needs to make this race as nationalized as possible.
"Between Ebola, ISIS, the border, and Obamacare, that's one heck of a toxic stew for Jeanne Shaheen to manage," said Jim Merrill, a longtime GOP strategist who ran Romney's operations in the state. "What Scott Brown has seen is that voters in New Hampshire are dissatisfied with Washington, and dissatisfied with the way our government doesn't work."
Merrill added that the news-of-the-day focus is "not advisable for every campaign" but said, given the mood toward the president in New Hampshire and across the country, that discussing current events can only help strengthen Brown's argument.
The main downside of such a strategy is clear: With fast-moving current events, sometimes taking a position one way or another can put a candidate in a tough spot when conditions change. Take Rand Paul, for example: Paul initially expressed skepticism about the idea of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, but reversed course after ISIS began beheading Americans.
Plus, Brown has been criticized for conflating border issues with fears over ISIS and Ebola—saying that the country's unprotected borders could allow ISIS fighters or Ebola-infected individuals to enter the country.
Democratic National Committeewoman Kathy Sullivan, a former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairwoman, said Brown's focus on the "issue du jour" indicates he doesn't have a coherent campaign strategy—that he's essentially throwing the kitchen sink against Shaheen to see what works best.
"I think he realizes that he's got problems," she said. "And so he's trying to throw everything against the wall and hope something sticks."