- Mitt Romney and Scott Brown kept their distance in 2012
- The two are now campaigning together as Brown seeks a new Senate seat
- Experts say it's all about political strategy
When Scott Brown was fighting to keep his Senate seat in Massachusetts two years ago, he was forced to keep his distance from a former colleague who also happened to be his party's top gun at the time, Mitt Romney.
Now, Brown is battling for the Senate again. This time, his arms are wide open for Romney.
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee campaigned for Brown on Wednesday for the second time this year, returning to a venue in Hudson where Romney held his own event more than two years ago.
"This is the guy who ought to be the next United States senator, and you're going to make him the next United States senator," Romney told the audience Wednesday.
So, why is more Brown more comfortable pairing up with Romney this time around? What changed?
The state. The election. The big players involved.
In 2012, Brown was trying to fend off an aggressive challenge by a progressive favorite in a reliably blue state. He cast himself as an independent and was more likely to tout his work with President Obama than his relationship with Romney.
When he was asked about Romney, he would sometimes give a short answer, then change the subject.
"Bringing in a Republican like Romney to talk about you is not what you want to do when you're running as a perceived independent in Massachusetts," said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
Now Brown is mounting his own challenge, trying to take down incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in neighboring New Hampshire, a more politically mixed state.
Romney, who's perhaps more popular than ever at the moment, is practically an adopted son of New Hampshire. He has a vacation home here and won the 2012 GOP primary by a wide margin.
And campaigning in a state where he's not "carrying the baggage" as a former governor -- as is the case in Massachusetts -- can help make things less complicated, Smith said.
So, strategically, it's common sense that Brown would welcome Romney in this state, in this year. Jim Merrill, a GOP strategist who led Romney's New Hampshire campaign, said "it's natural" for the two men to want to "link arms" this cycle.
Romney's "campaigned here, he's fought hard," Merrill said. "I think since the 2012 election, what we've seen is a real appreciation among the electorate on issues Mitt campaigned on."
With no clear potential frontrunner in the 2016 GOP presidential race, calls have surged for Romney to make a third White House bid. He insists he's not running, but he hasn't entirely ruled it out. His wife, Ann Romney, told the Washington Post Tuesday that it's a "no" for her husband "at this moment."
On stage Wednesday, Brown echoed sentiments that are fueling renewed interest in Romney.
"He was right on Russia. He was right on Obamacare. He was right on the economy," Brown said. "I can tell you, governor, if you were in the White House, the country and the world would seem a whole heck of a lot different. "
For Brown and Romney, their political past go back more than a decade. When Brown was running for the state Senate in Massachusetts in 2004, Romney, who was governor at the time, helped Brown raise big money. And during Brown's 2010 Senate race, Romney showed support.
The two northeast Republicans are also known to share advisers.
But is it awkward for them to pair up now after keeping their distance two years ago?
"I don't think there would be any awkwardness -- they're pros," said Neil Levesque, the executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and Political Library at Saint Anselm College.
"They know how this all works," he continued. "They're going to do what they can to get as many votes as possible."
And with the Senate race being neck and neck in the final sprint to Election Day, turnout will be a big factor.
"Romney is popular now, and he's going to help Brown get on that front page tomorrow," Levesque said.
That might help deflect attention from Shaheen's big-name visitors. Former President Bill Clinton headlines a dinner here Thursday night, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is slated to be in the state on November 2.
At the end of the day, it's the candidates themselves who become the closers of their own race, not their visitors. But having top-of-the-list supporters in town certainly doesn't hurt.
"You're looking for these pivotal points that might help you get half a percentage here, half a percentage there," Levesque said.