The underdog

Sara Orozco thinks she can beat all-American GOP superstar Scott Brown. Can she convince anyone else?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 13, 2008


Sara Orozco and Scott Brown, total opposites, are perfect candidates for a State Senate district with political bipolar disorder. Challenger Orozco comes from the northern part of the Bristol, Norfolk, and Middlesex district, where liberal communities such as Wellesley and Needham elect lefty Democratic state reps like Alice Peisch and Lida Harkins. Incumbent Scott Brown comes from the south, where rock-solid conservative bastions like Wrentham and Attleboro send three of the state’s few Republicans to the House of Representatives.

The two candidates are, like the two parts of their district, ideologically split on almost every issue. With such a clear-cut distinction, in one of the few competitive races in the state, you might imagine that Democrats and progressive groups would have Orozco near the top of their list of priority causes.

That’s starting to happen, but slowly. They realize how high the stakes are — Democrats would dearly love to deal a deathblow to Brown’s political career, which many see leading to a run for governor or US Senate. But so far, many remain unconvinced that Orozco, a lesbian Cuban-American psychologist who has never held public office, has any real chance of knocking off the state’s current GOP poster boy.

She is up against an all-American incumbent straight out of central casting. Brown is tall and model-handsome (he in fact did model at one time), with the best head of hair in the State House. He is married to WCVB-TV reporter Gail Huff, with two daughters — one of whom starred on the Noble & Greenough basketball squad (and currently plays for Boston College) and was an American Idol finalist. Brown is involved in everything good and clean-cut, from the Wrentham Lions Club to the USA Triathlon Federation. He is a crusader against sex offenders, for which he has received recognition from the US Chamber of Commerce. For chrissakes, he was unavailable for interviews this past week because he was serving his National Guard duty — how all-American can you get?

Orozco is not from central casting — she is more of an indie-film character. A first-generation American born and raised in Miami, daughter of a Kmart employee and a cement-factory worker, she worked her way from nothing to a Harvard Medical School academic appointment, and eventually her own psychology practice. She is a breast-cancer survivor. She is a single mother of twin nine-year-old boys from her 12-year relationship with another woman — which ended in divorce two years after they finally achieved the right to marry.

On paper, this doesn’t look like a fair match. Brown does not appear to be sweating it — he has not yet set up a campaign office — and Republicans within the state organization are almost dismissive of Orozco.

To those who are convinced that Orozco can win, that’s just fine: they want the incumbent to underestimate her.

But they do need to convince Democratic Party leaders, interest groups, and grassroots progressives that Orozco has a serious shot. “There will be a calculation about where to spend the effort,” one progressive organizational leader says. For the moment, most of those groups are more focused on races with primary battles. After those come and go in mid September, Orozco needs to have some evidence that she’s worth the investment.

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