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Will Scott Brown follow in the footsteps of James Buckley and Bill Brock?

Two Massachusetts politicians campaign in New Hampshire Brian Snyder/Reuters

According to Senate historians, 1,950 men and women have served in that body since 1789.

Since the direct election of Senators began in 1914, just three of those senators have, after losing re-election bids, been nominated to run for the Senate in a different state: New York’s James Buckley, who ran in Connecticut in 1980 after losing his seat in 1976; Tennessee’s Bill Brock, who ran in Maryland in 1994 after losing his seat, like Buckley, in 1976, and now Massachusetts’ Scott Brown, who is running in New Hampshire against incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen this year after losing to Elizabeth Warren in 2012.

Neither Buckley nor Brock was successful in his second-state comeback bids. What can their races tell us about Brown’s chances and his unusual decision to run in New Hampshire, rather than Massachusetts?

At first glance, Brown might seem to have little in common with two men who served single terms in the Senate from 1971 to 1977. But on closer inspection, several parallels present themselves.

First victories in unusual circumstances

The initial elections of Buckley and, to a lesser extent, Brock were unusual ones.

In 1970 James Buckley was elected not as a Republican but as the candidate of New York’s Conservative Party, and won a six-candidate race with just under 39% of the vote. He ousted the moderate Republican whom Nelson Rockefeller had appointed to fill the seat after Robert Kennedy’s assassination in 1968.

That same year, Republican Bill Brock’s defeat of three-term incumbent Democrat Albert Gore, Sr. helped signal that Tennessee was now truly a two-party state after a century of one-party rule.

Both elections were seen as major victories for both the Nixon Administration and the then-ascendant conservative movement.

In a similar fashion, Scott Brown’s election in 2010 sent shockwaves through the political world when he became the 41st Republican in the Senate, ended the Democrats’ brief filibuster-proof majority, and gave Republicans much more leverage over policymaking for the remainder of 2010.

Life in the spotlight

Buckley and Brock found themselves enjoying more attention than the average first-term member of the Senate minority does.

Each was embraced by the conservative wing of the GOP, and was suggested or considered as a candidate for Vice President in 1976 – Buckley for Reagan and Brock for Ford.

Brown, too, became nationally known from the moment of his victory in January 2010, and was depicted by Jon Hamm in a Saturday Night Live sketch even before his swearing-in.

Losing after just one term – in Brown’s case, one truncated term – must have been especially painful, and made these candidates particularly eager to seek new opportunities to return to the Senate.

Hoping to ride the GOP coattails

Buckley and Brock returned to the campaign trail in their new states in years where, overall, the GOP did very well. In 1980, Republicans won a whopping twelve seats; in 1994, Republicans gained eight, and in each year the party won control of the party.

To two conservatives who had previously lost their seats after serving in the minority, the prospect of returning to the Senate as part of a new majority may have helped them overcome any reluctance they may have felt about running in a new state. Although, ultimately,it didn’t assure them victory.

This year, the question is not whether the GOP will win seats in the Senate, but whether they will win the six or more that will ensure control of the chamber. That prospect no doubt factored into Brown’s calculations as he decided whether or not to run.

What makes Scott Brown’s story different

One important difference between Brown’s comeback attempt and those of Buckley and Brock is his choice of second state.

Buckley and Brock each sought their second terms as Republicans in new states that were historically liberal. New Hampshire, despite its increasingly blue lean in presidential years, is much more friendly ground for a Republican like Brown – even, it seems, one who used to represent Massachusetts.

The good news for Senator Shaheen is that Brown is swimming upstream against historical precedent. Buckley and Brock and other politicians who have already held office in one state are almost always unsuccessful when they run in another.

The good news for Brown is that the race has tightened considerably since the September primary. While very few surveys have put him in the lead, most now place him within just a few points of Shaheen. Even if his campaign is unsuccessful, he seems unlikely to suffer the sort of blowouts that Buckley and Brock experienced in their second-state runs.

If Brown does lose the election – and racks up a record of two losses in two states two years apart – his career in elective politics will likely be at its end.

But even in this scenario, Buckley and Brock could serve as role models for Brown. Both men worked in the Reagan administration and Buckley later served as a federal judge.
The next Republican president may very well ask Brown to join his or her administration.

And if Senator Shaheen loses the election? Well, New Hampshire’s other US Senator, Kelly Ayotte, is a Republican – and up for re-election in 2016.

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