Scott Brown fires up Senate fight

Scott Brown’s decision to explore a Senate run in New Hampshire has implications beyond the borders of the Granite State.

The former Massachusetts senator's decision not only gives Republicans their best shot at taking down Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), but thanks to GOP recruiting in recent weeks, the Senate landscape looks even more dire for Democrats this fall.

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Democrats face an increasingly difficult national political climate, and Republicans need to pick up just six seats to take back the majority. They're favored in three red states where Democrats are retiring and have favorable conditions and strong candidates lined up in at least three of four other states that are held by Democrats but won by Mitt Romney last cycle.

President Obama’s unpopularity — coupled with $30 million in ObamaCare attacks launched since August from a Koch brothers-backed group on House and Senate races — has further shuffled the map and complicated Democrats’ chances in at least four more seats.

In Michigan, an open swing state, polling has shown GOP front-runner Terri Lynn Land holding a slight but consistent lead over likely Democratic nominee Rep. Gary Peters, who’s been hit by hundreds of thousands of dollars in ObamaCare attack ads.

Republicans believe they can also put Virginia into play now that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is running.

The GOP got a top-tier candidate in Colorado last month, when Rep. Cory Gardner (R) decided to enter the race.

And Brown, with his signature GMC Canyon pickup truck and nearly unmatched fundraising ability, has given Democrats reason to worry in New Hampshire.

Brown hasn’t quite made his bid official, he’s only launched an exploratory committee and a statewide listening tour, and the filing deadline in New Hampshire isn’t until June.

But he will, at the very least, draw time and resources away from other races to a state Democrats would rather not have to worry about.

“It definitely changes the map as far as resources are concerned,” one national Democratic strategist told The Hill. The strategist insisted, however, that “you’re not pulling from like a finite level of resources anywhere,” and pointed out that committees traditionally take out lines of credit if they need to spend more than they’ve budgeted in the final months of a cycle.

And he’s given Republicans further reason for optimism. Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for GOP super-PAC American Crossroads, which just reserved a $600,000 ad buy in New Hampshire for next week, said there were “more than enough” states in the mix for Republicans to take back the Senate.

“Three months ago, no one thought that Colorado, Virginia or New Hampshire would be in play, and they are now. Our prospects in some states are improving,” he said. “Had you asked me six months ago whether Republicans could take the Senate, I would’ve said I wasn’t sure if there were enough states on the table. Now there are more than enough.”

Democrats insist they have the money to play in every state necessary. They point to record-breaking monthly fundraising numbers — $52.6 million overall in 2013 — and say they’ve budgeted for every contingency.

But one national Democratic source told The Hill the party is expected to invest heavily in its ground game in New Hampshire now that Brown’s in.

That could perhaps come as part of an expansion of the Bannock Street project, a $60-million commitment from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 10 competitive Senate states to help boost turnout to presidential election-year levels.

The importance, and inadequacy, of Democratic turnout efforts became painfully clear this past week when a top-tier Democratic recruit with a more than 2-to-1 fundraising advantage over her Republican opponent lost a competitive House special election in Florida.

Democrats agreed, coming out of that race, that the party had trouble turning out its base, while ObamaCare drove Republicans to the polls.

And that seems likely to be Brown’s central message in New Hampshire, much like it was in his surprise Massachusetts special election win in 2010. Even before he launched his exploratory committee, he was hammering Shaheen on the law in fundraising pitches for the New Hampshire GOP and op-eds posted on Fox News’s website.

While some Republicans have cautioned that the party can’t lean entirely on ObamaCare, Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire GOP chairman, said he believes it's the silver bullet they need.

“ObamaCare is argument No. 1, 2 and 3. The question is, do you need argument four and argument five?” he said.

Brown will be able to raise millions to drive that message home. He raised $28 million for his 2012 race, and though he’s operating on a truncated schedule, he’s not expected to want for funds. Shaheen’s aides believe she’ll be able to ramp up her fundraising as well, however, boosted by opposition to Brown. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who beat Brown last cycle, is also expected to tap into her network to support Shaheen. The League of Conservation Voters and EMILY’s List, who also hammered Brown in 2012, are likely to get heavily involved in the New Hampshire race.

“This engages the donor community in a way that we just couldn’t do before — we’ll definitely raise more than we were going to raise without him,” a Shaheen aide told The Hill.

GOP outside groups have also signaled their full support for Brown. Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Charles and David Koch-backed group spending millions this cycle, has already dropped hundreds of thousands on the race.

The Koch money pouring into races is one of the primary reasons Democrats are sinking in polls, and their pipeline appears to be unlimited. AFP has put no price tag on its efforts, with the group’s president, Tim Phillips, only pledging to "do what it takes" to make ObamaCare a central issue for Democrats this cycle.

But with Brown's new state sharing the same media market as his old one, Democrats say voters there are still aware of the same attacks used last cycle.

“All of the negatives that ring true from 2012 still ring true,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky. “He’s beholden to big banks; he cares more about Wall Street than the people of New Hampshire; he’s got a terrible record on women’s issues — and now you throw in the fact that he’s a carpetbagger, running against a very popular incumbent senator? The road is long for him to win.”

Democrats see the carpetbagging attacks as part of a larger narrative — that Scott Brown is running for office only to help Scott Brown.

And there are still variables for Brown. Some question whether he’ll ultimately make his bid official, as his two daughters both have weddings planned this summer.

Most Republicans agree he’ll run, but that the primary will be a tricky one. Brown is already facing backlash from the base, with 200 gun-rights protesters appearing at an event he did earlier this year.

“Those are people that you need to win a primary, but you absolutely need to win a general,” said Jim Merrill, a former adviser to Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire campaign. “We’re a purple state. To win, you’ve got to be able to turn your base out. With Mitt, the base ended up being the margin.”

But to do that, Cullen warned, Brown shouldn’t try too hard to whitewash his record as Massachusetts senator, or ignore his Massachusetts roots.

“My advice would be, don't try to be something that you're not," he said. "Don't try to pretend that you know every town in New Hampshire or that or that you've got deeper roots than you really have."