After months of hedging, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) will announce a possible bid for neighboring New Hampshire’s Senate seat. Brown sparked rumors of a run after moving to his New Hampshire vacation home in December, and is apparently launching an exploratory committee and beginning to hire campaign staff. But New Hampshire’s rapidly evolving political landscape may force Brown to shed many of his traditional conservative policies if he wants to compete in the state.
New Hampshire’s vaunted libertarian ethos has given the state a case of mild partisan schizophrenia. It elected both Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Tea Party favorite Kelly Ayotte to the Senate, and handed its state House to the Democrats while Republicans control the state Senate. As a result, the state has become a laboratory for libertarian and progressive causes, civil rights expansion, and criminal justice reform, putting Brown in an awkward position as he tries to appeal to New Hampshire voters.
Here are six issues Brown may have to shift on to win Granite State voters:
1. Marijuana reform. New Hampshire made a deeply controversial move in 2012 to enable jury nullification, which allows juries to nullify charges if they disagree with the law. In New Hampshire, this has played out as a way to protest drug laws. The House has also passed a bill to make New Hampshire the third state to legalize and tax marijuana (though the Senate is unlikely to approve it). Brown has opposed medical marijuana in the past and proposed a bill to effectively recriminalize marijuana possession as a Massachusetts state senator — a history he may have to disavow to win over the 60 percent of New Hampshire adults who support legalization.
2. Abortion rights. Following a controversial Massachusetts’ law currently in peril at the U.S. Supreme Court, New Hampshire is poised to enact buffer zones to shield women entering state abortion clinics from harassment. The move flies in the face of anti-abortion activists who see buffer zones as an easy target. New Hampshire generally has few restrictions on abortion access. Brown has insisted in the past that he is pro-choice, even as he voted to defund Planned Parenthood, force women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion, and to pass the radical Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed insurers or employers to deny women any health coverage they morally oppose.
3. Equal pay. Brown is also at odds with New Hampshire Republicans on equal pay for women. The GOP-led state Senate unanimously approved the Paycheck Fairness Act on Thursday to ensure that men and women are paid equally and protects employees’ rights to share information about their wages. However, the federal version of the bill is currently stalled after Brown helped defeat it in 2012, calling pay equity a “job-killing burden.”
4. Death penalty. New Hampshire is on track to repeal the death penalty, after a bill passed the House Wednesday with overwhelmingly strong support on both sides of the aisle. Brown has firmly backed capital punishment, even releasing a campaign video in which he argues that some crimes “deserve the ultimate punishment.”
5. Gay rights. New Hampshire has long been a sanctuary for gay rights. It was one of the earliest states to legalize same-sex marriage, and preserved that right even when Republicans controlled the legislature. This week, the Senate enshrined that commitment to equal rights by unanimously approving a constitutional amendment to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. That could create tension with Brown, who has repeatedly refused to support ENDA, the federal bill to protect LGBT Americans from employment discrimination. Brown also actively tried to repeal marriage equality in Massachusetts and DC.
6. Obamacare. Like most Republican challengers this year, Brown will likely make his opposition to Obamacare a central tenet of his campaign, as he did in his failed 2012 bid for Senate in Massachusetts. But last week, New Hampshire’s Republican-controlled Senate expanded health insurance to 58,000 impoverished residents with federal ACA money.
Brown is going into this exploratory phase with an uphill battle ahead of him. The latest polling shows New Hampshire residents think less of Brown than all other 17 state politicians mentioned, and frequently identified him as a “carpetbagger/interloper.”