Ask democratic staffers on Capitol Hill what they think of Scott Brown's involvement in the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal, and you'll likely get the following response, in this order: derisive laughter, a litany of complaints, and a sports metaphor to describe a lawmaker who didn't exactly go the distance (one aide compared the Massachusetts senator to Rosie Ruiz, the Boston Marathon runner who in 1980 crossed the finish line first--after she joined the race in the last mile).
Brown was one of eight GOP senators to cross the aisle and vote for repeal of the 1993 DADT law, officially consigned to the history books September 20. His support was never a certainty, however. Brown voted against allowing debate on repeal just weeks before the bill ultimately passed.
"We very nearly lost because of that delay, and only just got DADT repealed at the very last moment," says John Aravosis, a Democratic consultant and founder of AmericaBlog. "Yes, Senator Brown supported us in the end, but he also was instrumental in nearly causing our defeat."
Brown--whose seat Democrats are confident they can regain in 2012 with the election of consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren--remembers his belated support a little differently. "I have done my due diligence, made sure I understood the issue, have acted independently, and voted regardless of what political party was the prime sponsor of the bill. Repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' is a perfect example of my approach," he said this fall in an acceptance speech for a Spirit of Lincoln Award. The honor was bestowed by the Log Cabin Republicans, which endorsed Brown's 2012 campaign and praised him for casting a key vote when it wasn't necessarily politically advantageous to do so.
While his ultimate vote was commendable, Brown isn't an ally in the eyes of many LGBT voters. The man who replaced the late Edward Kennedy has never come out for equal marriage rights, nor does he support federal employment protections for gay and transgender Americans. In fact, Brown said on the campaign trail that states' rights should prevail on the issue and pointed to his own as a model, though Massachusetts still lacks workplace protections for transgender individuals. One Republican operative blames that on the Democratic-controlled state legislature where Brown once served: "Wildly liberal state. Democratic governor, overwhelmingly liberal legislature. Popular support for transgender rights, but [Democrats] won't bring a bill to the floor." [Update: After this issue went to press, the state House of Representatives approved a bill protecting transgender individuals from discrimination in the workplace. The bill now moves onto the senate.]
Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has helped Warren raise twice as much in campaign funds as the Republican incumbent in the last reported quarter, sees Brown's 2010 election as an aberration.
"It's a top race for us, a big opportunity," he says of the 2012 election. "It's clear that Scott Brown is generally out of touch with Massachusetts when he votes 90% of time with [Republican Senate minority leader] Mitch McConnell. I think he'll make every effort to portray himself as a moderate, even when the facts don't play out."