During last fall's tepid GOP primary, Scott Brown's campaign was overshadowed by a feisty four-way Democratic fight — stoking Republican fears he'd be unable to catch winner Martha Coakley during the general election for the late Edward Kennedy's Senate seat.
But Brown, whose basketball skills helped him win college admission, has proved as nimble on the campaign trail as the parquet floor.
When Coakley faded from the campaign trail over the holidays, Brown held daily press events, then posted the first television ad of the final election stretch, comparing himself with the late President John F. Kennedy.
Coakley's air of inevitability evaporated.
For Brown, the breathing room let him define himself as a truck-driving everyman, a doting father and the candidate best suited to push back against a Democratic-dominated Senate.
"If you want someone to lower your taxes and bring common sense back to Washington, then join with me," Brown said in a campaign ad that showed him shaking hands in the working-class neighborhood of South Boston.
Reinvention is a skill Brown has used throughout his career, seizing opportunities where he found them.
As an undergraduate, he didn't just rely on his athletic skills, but also delved into singing and acting.
He traded on his matinee good looks for work as a model, and while still in law school, he posed nude for Cosmopolitan magazine — in a photo spread with a strategically placed crease in the magazine.
Later he enlisted in the National Guard and launched a political career that took him from the Wrentham Board of Selectmen to the Massachusetts House and Senate.
Brown said his dedication to hard work and family grew out of a difficult childhood.
"I didn't come from a lot of money," he said in a recent debate. "My parents are divorced a few times. My mom was on welfare for a period of time. I really came from nothing and worked my way up."
That work ethic has helped Brown come within striking distance of Coakley. He's crisscrossed the state with the stamina of an athlete training for a triathlon, which Brown does between real estate closings and legislative work.
On the campaign trail and in debates, Brown has drawn bright lines between himself and his Democratic opponent — something Democrats now believe Coakley should have also been doing.
Massachusetts Democratic political consultant Mary Ann Marsh said Brown has been able to capitalize on his strengths during the brief six-week sprint to the special election in part because Coakley and her supporters sat back after she won the Democratic primary.
"In a six-week race, he was given the advantage of having the field to himself for the first four weeks," she said. "He was able to define himself, define the race and define her, and nobody questioned him."
Brown, who defeated businessman Jack E. Robinson to win the GOP nomination, has vowed to be the 41st vote in the Senate against President Barack Obama's health care initiative. He's portrayed Coakley as a big-spending liberal who's naive on foreign policy and soft on the treatment of terrorism suspects.
"To think that we would give people who want to kill us constitutional rights and lawyer them up at our expense instead of treating them as enemy combatants to get as much information as we can under legal means — it just makes no sense to me," Brown said.
Brown has also said that, unlike Coakley, he supports Obama's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
Brown grew up in Wakefield and attended Tufts University in nearby Medford. When the Blizzard of '78 struck Massachusetts, Brown remembers speaking with a National Guard battalion commander and later signing up.
Although he's never been deployed, he has been on Guard assignments in Paraguay and Kazakhstan. He is now both a lieutenant colonel and the Guard's top defense attorney in New England.
Brown met his wife, Gail Huff, now a reporter for Boston's WCVB-TV, in 1985, and the couple married a year later. They live in Wrentham and have two daughters — Ayla, 21, who made it to the top 16 performers in 2006 on TV's "American Idol," and her sister Arianna, 19.
The daughters have played a prominent supporting role in Brown's campaign.
More recently they came to their father's defense after Coakley pointed out he'd sponsored an amendment in 2005 that would have allowed doctors and nurses to refuse dispensing emergency contraception to rape victims if it went against their sincerely held religious beliefs.
"My dad would always stand up for the rights and needs of rape victims, and he's kind, understanding and he's a very compassionate father and man," Ayla Brown said.
Brown said his dedication to his family and his ties to his home state run deep.
"I was raised here and I'll probably die here," he said.
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