It’s No Surprise Scott Brown Turned Down Another Senate Run

Sometimes politicians choose not to run for office for the sake of human sanity

By + More
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown during an Associated Press interview at his office in Boston, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011.

So a former senator with an unusually (for Congress) high approval rating decides not to try to get his seat back. Why are so many people so surprised that Scott Brown had opted to sit out the special election to fill Secretary of State John Kerry's old seat?

Prognostications about people's political ambitions tend to be rooted in the cynical and flawed premise that any politician, current or former, will seek power at any cost and skip a race only because he or she fears losing. Former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd, who decided not to run for re-election in 2010, was immediately branded as someone who looked at the nutmeg-scented tea leaves in his state and figured he could not beat former GOP representative Rob Simmons, who also was wrongly presumed to be the likely Republican nominee (Linda McMahon won the nomination and lost to Democrat Richard Blumenthal). In fact, Dodd had taken a look at his recent years in what is supposed to be the world's greatest deliberative body and saw this: His sister had died of cancer. His colleague and best friend had died of cancer. He himself had just been through a bout of cancer. Did he really want to go back to Connecticut and fight a nasty campaign, 24/7, against someone he'd gotten along with during more sane times in Congress, only to come back to the current state in Washington—where even with 60 votes in the Senate, Democrats couldn't get done what they wanted? Dodd, with a wife and two little girls, decided no. That wasn't political fear. That was human sanity.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

So Brown, too, decided not to run—and he must have been under tremendous pressure from his party, since he was clearly the strongest candidate they had. It was hardly a sure thing for Brown, of course. He had failed to best Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who, while a great mind and already on track to be a player in the Senate, was not an experienced candidate. She didn't have the election experience or political network a more veteran politician has, and she was a woman running in an allegedly liberal state that nonetheless is fairly inhospitable to female candidates. And she still beat Brown. Rep. Ed Markey, the leading Democratic candidate for the Senate seat, hasn't had a tight race in a very long time, but he has campaign experience Warren didn't have, and would not have been an easy beat for Brown. And if Brown had run and lost, it would likely have killed his chances to run for governor in 2014. Still, the former GOP senator led in hypothetical matchups, and would have had a decent chance of winning back his seat. So why didn't he?

[Read: Unexpected Political Losers of 2012]

Perhaps Brown looked at the future as an actual human being, and not as some sort of power-hungry political robot public servants are so often, and so unfairly, presumed to be. Running again would have meant mounting three expensive, bruising campaigns back-to-back (the Warren race, the special election, and the regularly-scheduled 2014 race). That is more financially, emotionally and physically draining than most people can—or would choose to—endure. And what would be the prize? To come back to a place where (for two more years at least) he'd be in the minority, his power determined largely by his party's ability to thwart the majority's agenda? Brown may have looked at the race and decided it was too much of a political risk. Or he may have opted for a more sane life.

  • Robert Schlesinger: On Immigration, Electoral College, Right Bargains With Reality
  • Susan Milligan: Harvard's NFL Study Will Help Both Players and Fans
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.