Will the Santorum-i-zation of Scott Brown work in Massachusetts?

A new Suffolk University/Channel 7 poll puts Senator Scott Brown nine points ahead of Democratic challenger Elizabeth Brown. But what will be the impact on the Massachusetts electorate of his recent effort to emulate Rick Santorum in the debate about exempting contraception in required health insurance plans?

The Obama Administration appeared to have put a damper on the controversy ignited by the issuance of regulations requiring Catholic hospitals and universities to offer contraception in their health insurance plans provided to employees, many of whom are not Catholic. The compromise shifts the cost from the employers to the insurers, who would save money in the long run. Sister Carol Keehan, D.C., president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, who had supported Obamacare, reportedly accepts the compromise. (The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does not.) 

The Respect for Conscience Act filed by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, which Brown co-sponsors, would go even farther than what Santorum is embracing. The proposal -, which, as Yvonne Abraham has noted, is obviously an attempt to gut the Affordable Health Care Act,- would go beyond allowing Catholic organizations to opt out of contraception coverage. The Blunt bill would allow any employer to opt out for virtually any “moral conviction.”

So, if a woman works for a company dominated by Christian Scientists, could that company offer coverage that insures only those processes that claim to cure with prayer? As Herald columnist Margery Eagan points out, “The possibilities are endless.” The bill is so open-ended that it could conceivably permit employers’ excluding coverage for lifestyle choices, not ideal body mass indices, single motherhood or even pre-existing conditions.

Scott Brown is a personally likable guy. (So, too, were George W. Bush and Dan Quayle.) When Brown started in the Senate, he voted with the rigidly right Republican leadership 90 percent of the time. This was far higher than moderate Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who voted with their leadership 54%-56%. More recently, now running for reelection, he seems to be voting more in line with his Maine colleagues, unless, warns Lowell Sun columnist Michael Goldman, you count all-important procedural votes. Then, he calculates, Brown has been voting 74% with the GOP leadership.

Brown’s strongest selling point is that, if Republicans end up controlling the Senate (and the House), it would be good to have at least one Republican in the state’s delegation. The question Massachusetts voters have to ask themselves is what kind of senator would he be? How high a price are voters willing to pay? If “good guy” Scott Brown has another six years to serve, will he revert to his comfort zone and line up with his party leadership a preponderance of the time? Siding with Rick Santorum on the health care bill seems to be a good clue of what might lie ahead in Scott Brown’s play book.

I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.

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