By Scott Malone
NASHUA, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, a moderate Republican who moved to New Hampshire last year, said on Friday he had begun exploring a run for Senate in his new home state that could help his party gain a seat in the chamber now controlled by Democrats.
"I have formed an exploratory committee to prepare a campaign for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire," Brown told the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference on Friday afternoon in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Brown's flirtation with a run for a seat now held by Senator Jeanne Shaheen had worried the first-term Democrat enough that her campaign had sent out fund-raising emails weeks ago, mentioning him as a potential rival.
His speech largely targeted Democratic President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law, which he described as flawed and needing to be repealed.
"A big political wave is about to break in America and the Obamacare Democrats are on the wrong side of that wave," Brown said.
In 2010, Brown was a little-known state senator from Wrentham, Massachusetts who stunned the state's Democratic establishment by beating state Attorney General Martha Coakley in an off-cycle U.S. Senate election for the seat made available by the death of liberal icon Edward Kennedy.
In November, 2012, Democrat Elizabeth Warren defeated him in his re-election bid. A few months later, Brown began to mull publicly the idea of running for office in New Hampshire, where he was born and had maintained a second home before returning.
Brown got mixed reviews from the crowd of a few hundred Republican activists in the room.
"I'm a big supporter of his. I helped out with his campaign in Massachusetts," said Paul Schibbelhute, 58, of Nashua. "I know people will say he's a carpetbagger, but I don't believe that. He has roots here."
He said he liked Brown's message: "He is a voice against Obamacare and if he gets back in the Senate he will be able to help fix it."
Others raised concerns that Brown would not be a conservative enough choice.
"Scott Brown was elected in Massachusetts with the help of the Tea Party, but then he got elected and he was a Massachusetts Republican," said Karen Thoman, 56, also of Nashua.
Republican voters in New Hampshire are traditionally more conservative than in liberal-leaning Massachusetts, where Republicans usually adopt more moderate views to convince some Democrats to vote for them.
Thoman said she has been involved in some Tea Party events and felt that Brown did not hold to the conservative movement's ideals once he was elected.
"I won't be voting for him in the primary," said Thoman, who has not yet decided which Republican she will back.
SURGE OF INTEREST
A surge of interest following Brown's move to the state caused him to show well in polls early this year. But the incumbent has gained momentum. A Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll of 800 likely voters released this month showed 52 percent of voters favoring Shaheen to 39 percent for Brown.
Brown had the leading position among likely Republican rivals, with 33 percent of voters supporting him, triple the support of his nearest rival Bob Smith, who is seeking to reclaim a seat he held from 1990 to 2003.
Almost half of voters remained undecided with six months to go until the September primary.
New Hampshire Democrats moved quickly to try to tie Brown to the national Republican party, a strategy Warren used effectively against him in her 2012 campaign.
"Scott Brown appears to be ready to be rejected by voters in two states, because the people of New Hampshire don't want a senator who represents big oil and Wall Street," said state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley.
Fox News, where Brown has served as a contributor since leaving office, canceled its contract with the former senator after he notified the conservative cable network of his plans, said Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming.
Brown's name recognition could draw financial support from national Republicans if they believe he has who a good chance to help the party capture a majority in the U.S. Senate. Democrats hold 53 seats in the chamber to the Republicans' 45, and there are two independent senators.
"A more business-oriented group like the Chamber of Commerce might find Brown a very attractive candidate," said Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Stephen Powell, Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio)