The Burden of Being Scott Brown

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Tally up the recent polls in the Massachusetts Senate race and you’ll see that the incumbent is very popular. Tally up those same polls and you’ll also see that he’s losing. That is the beauty and the burden of being Scott Brown.

Brown, a rare northeastern Republican, faced Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren in their second debate Monday night, an awkward affair hosted by Meet the Press’ David Gregory. For all the talk of Warren’s debate chops–the Harvard law prof was a state champ in Oklahoma at the tender age of 16–there’s been no lopsided decisions in their sparring matches so far. “Warren, Brown, Round 2″ was all the Cape Cod Times’ frontpage editors could muster this morning, while The Patriot Ledger declared “Candidates Scuffle at Second Debate.” OK then.

But the debate wasn’t as boring as it might sound. Monday night’s most important moment came when Gregory asked Brown who his model Supreme Court Justice is. Here’s what happened next:

BROWN: Let me see here. That’s a great question. I think Justice Scalia is a very good judge. [Audience boos.] Justice Kennedy. [More booing.] Justin Kennedy is obviously very good, and also Justice Roberts they are… Justice Sotomayor, I think they’re very qualified people there, who actually do a very good job.

GREGORY: Scalia and Sotomayor don’t exactly…

BROWN: Well that’s the beauty of being an independent, David. You can actually…

GREGORY: If you had to pick one…

Brown: Listen, I don’t need to pick one. We have plenty of Justices up there and I’m proud of the ones we have.

The Warren campaign couldn’t have asked for a better set up. Brown wants to keep things local, nonpartisan, “independent,” as he said.  But the question simultaneously reminded voters of the national effects of the race and the party lines in Washington.

Warren has been attempting to nationalize the race–she hopes to ride President Obama’s coattails in a state he won by 26 points in 2008–and often mentions the future balance of the Supreme Court out on the trail. The court is especially slippery territory for Brown, a pro-choice moderate who nonetheless voted with his party to oppose the nomination of Elena Kagan (Warren’s former boss at Harvard whom the Dem chose as her model Justice during the debate) shortly after his arrival in Washington in 2010.  With all that hanging above his head, Brown froze and gave his farcical all-of-the-above-answer. This, as Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 White House bid (and the eternal wisdom of The Simpsons) has taught us, is the price a moderate Republican pays.

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