Scott Brown in full campaign mode at New England Council

Elizabeth Warren is a stronger candidate than Martha Coakley was in 2010, but Scott Brown is a far better candidate than he was back then. He was in full campaign mode at today’s New England Council luncheon. His message was clear: he knows that many in the room didn’t vote for him in his 2010 race against A.G. Martha Coakley, and he admitted that, when he meets many of the attendees who visit in his office, “we’ve been banging heads.” But, he asserted, Massachusetts voters are independent-minded, and he gives them credit for being able to vote based on the individual, not the party. The implied request is clear: vote for Obama the Democrat for President (if you must) and vote for me, who happens to be a Republican, for U.S. Senator.

While he stated both that “The Number One issue is lack of regulatory and tax certainty,” no matter what the sector, and that “Job creation is my Number One priority,” most of his speech – far more smoothly delivered than when he appeared before the same group a year ago – was an effort to document the ways in which he has voted independently of GOP leadership, across party lines.

He is, he said, the second most bipartisan in the US Senate, voting differently from his party leadership on economic, social and foreign policy roll calls 54 percent of the time, based on an independent third-party analysis (The National Journal) . He took umbrage when asked about the fact that that percentage jumps (to 74 percent by some analyses) when you take into account more of the procedural votes, often occurring in committee to keep bills from ever reaching the floor or watering them down when they get there. Still, the National Journal, based on its selection of votes, included Brown among nine Republicans closest to the ideological center. On a somewhat more grandiose tone, he declared himself to be “one of the only persons in the Senate to vote with anyone who wants to do something” irrespective of party. He calls the other members of the Massachusetts delegation “97 percenters,” that is, dramatically more partisan.

On substantive matters, Brown cited his opposition to doubling the rate of interest on student loans from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. Both parties want to keep the low rate while students are still in school. But the Republicans, including Brown, want to pay for it by cutting funds for preventive health care, and the Democrats, by closing tax loopholes. Brown did at least note that more attention needs to be paid to the impact of loan availability on ever- increasing tuition. It will be interesting to watch his votes on this and other issues in the coming weeks.

Brown focused on the hundreds of billions of dollars in fraud and abuse that could be used to support certain programs, like welfare, “not as a lifelong entitlement but a safety net.” But, he warns, we have to find a way to pay for it, and not by having the GAS spending millions of tax dollars for a party in Vegas.

Much of the junior Senator’s focus has been on jobs, including four job fairs across the state, visiting businesses to assess their needs. He is especially proud of co-sponsoring bills signed into law to legalize “crowd funding” (to help small business attract investors without what Brown sees as unnecessary regulatory protection), and including a tax credit to businesses hiring veterans. Another success was a much watered down law to bar insider trading by members of Congress. He seems very proud to have been invited to White House signing ceremonies and notes that he worked these “in a truly bipartisan matter.” Indeed, his involvement on legislation has been more productive, in many ways, than the early years of John Kerry’s first Senatorial term.

He says he’s out to do “things that matter,” like the Violence against Women Act,” saving the Post Office, providing resources for Homeland Security. He says we don’t need ideologues in Washington, and that there are good people on both sides of the aisle. When it comes to the next round of budget and debt debates, he says he “won’t play the shut-down-the-government game.” He says he doesn’t work for Mitch McConnell. “I work for you,” he told the business crowd, who seemed quite warm to him.

But I would be surprised if, reelected, Scott Brown would ever be an Ed Brooke type of Republican. What will he look like if he gets a six-year term? How actively bipartisan will he be with the possible shrinking of the number of centrists after the 2012 election, given the absence of retiring senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Olympa Snowe (R-ME) and Ben Nelson (D-NB). For now, though, his message of independence, and his more polished presentation, mean that Elizabeth Warren has her work cut out for her in trying to unseat him.

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

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