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Scott Brown's 'tea party' fans feel burned by jobs vote

The new Massachusetts senator crosses the aisle to block a Republican filibuster on a $15-billion jobs bill. His supporters, who used the Internet to rally behind him, now turn on him.

February 23, 2010|By James Oliphant

Reporting from Washington — For Scott Brown, it appears that the "tea party" is over.

Literally overnight, the fledgling Republican senator who ended Democrats' filibuster-proof majority by winning a special election in Massachusetts has gone from being the darling of America's conservative activists to being their goat.

Monday night, Brown announced that he would join four other Republicans in voting to block a GOP filibuster and move forward with a $15-billion jobs bill designed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Almost immediately, the political blogosphere exploded.

Cries of "letdown," "betrayal," "sellout," and "RINO" -- "Republican in name only" -- flew around Twitter. By late Tuesday afternoon, more than 4,200 people had left comments on Brown's Facebook page, most harshly negative. (And liberals engaged in some cyber-schadenfreude at the same time.)

Just five days earlier, Brown had been cheered loudly by conservative activists at a gathering in Washington. He was so warmly received that some in the crowd began suggesting he could be another Ronald Reagan and help usher in a new era of conservatism.

Tea party and other conservative activists felt particularly let down by Brown's Monday vote because many of them had poured money and manpower into his underdog bid to capture the Senate seat long occupied by liberal icon Edward M. Kennedy.

By Monday night, many of his Twitter followers had concluded that a White House run had become out of the question -- even as he entered Day 19 of his Senate tenure.

The fracas served as a reminder of how online grass-roots movements can be a double-edged sword. Brown took advantage of the Internet's exponential power to get the word out and raise money as he campaigned. On Monday, he faced its wrath in real time.

For his part, Brown has maintained since winning the Kennedy seat that his votes would reflect his diverse, liberal-leaning constituency.

Two other northeastern Republicans, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, also voted with the Democrats.

"I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside, and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families," Brown said in a statement after the vote. "This Senate jobs bill is not perfect. I wish the tax cuts were deeper and broader, but I voted for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work."

Reid's office said the majority leader had identified Brown as a potential vote last week and spoken to the freshman on the phone. But, said spokesman Jim Manley, "Sen. Reid didn't know how Brown was going to vote" until he voted with the Democrats.

Sissy Willis, a tea party blogger from Chelsea, Mass., who supported Brown's candidacy, said many of her compatriots in the nascent anti-big-government movement were "overreacting."

"They expected him to be a conservative when he's always been an independent," Willis said.

"He's representing his constituents," she said.

Willis said she expected Brown to follow through on trying to block the Democrats' healthcare plan, a signature issue of his campaign.

She compared the mania over Brown to that which surrounded President Obama's campaign, saying that with both, there was an inevitable letdown.

Supporters "weren't using their brains, they were using their hearts," she said. "When he didn't turn out to change the world, they felt betrayed."

joliphant@latimes.com

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