Scott Brown won a special election in January 2010 to fill the remainder of the term that late senator Edward Kennedy had secured in 2006. As this term is now up, Brown is running to retain the seat for six additional years.
Readers of the Political Pulse will note that I covered the 2010 special election in some depth. In short, Republican candidate Brown was able to surprise Democratic candidate Martha Coakley by running on Tea Party fueled enthusiasm, his "regular guy" persona, political moderation (essential for a Republican to win a statewide race in Massachusetts), and the utter ineptitude of the overconfident Coakley campaign. It was a relatively close result with Brown emerging as a three point victor.
Brown has maintained strong favorability ratings over the past two years. Under normal circumstances with the advantages of incumbency he should be a cinch for reelection...but, this is Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states!
Enter Elizabeth Warren
Former Harvard Professor and Obama Administration official Elizabeth Warren was urged last year by both state and national Democratic organizations to mount a run against Brown.
Coming from the progressive left wing of the Democratic Party, Warren takes many unabashedly liberal positions, especially on economic and consumer issues. This resonates strongly with party activists and has helped her with fundraising and organization. Warren was easily able to secure the Democratic Party nomination at the party convention and thus avoid a primary election opponent.
Campaign thus far
In an unique agreement, both Brown and Warren taken "The People's Pledge" to keep outside SuperPacs, party committees, and 527s from advertising in the race. Candidate's that benefit from any third party advertisement to donate a sum equal to 50% of the value of that ad to a charity of the other candidate's choice.
Advertising was generally positive from both candidates until the past week. Warren has been under some pressure to retool her advertising as perceptions are that her somewhat professorial manner is not connecting with the broader citizenry.The Warren campaign is now running ads showing endorsements from ordinary citizens extolling her support for the middle class.
Enormous sums of money are being spent on this race. Both candidates have deep financial pockets and as control of the Senate may hinge on this seat
Polling has shown a close race with Brown holding a small lead in the most recent surveys.
- Big gender gap - Brown is leading among men, Warren is winning the female vote.
- Predictably, Republicans (all 12 of them) support Brown and most Democrats are behind Warren. Brown is peeling off a slice of Democrats however. the real story is the over 50% of voters who identify as Independent. Brown has a lead in this group and that is providing him the 2-4 point lead in recent surveys.
- Bear in mind that all the polling is within the margin of error so statistically the race is a tie. However Brown having even a small advantage makes a good headline for his campaign.
- Portray moderate ideology, essential to win in Massachusetts.
- Keep running positive ads (featuring the truck) meeting with ordinary citizens.
- Highlight accomplishments and legislation; Brown's latest ad shows President Obama signing legislation reforming congressional insider trading that he initially proposed.
- Garner support from conservative and "lunch-bucket" Democrats. He will be campaigning in Lowell, Worcester, Waltham, and South Boston. Recent endorsements of urban Democrats (Former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn and former Worcester Mayor Konnie Lukes) helps here.
- Encourage ticket spitting - a Massachusetts tradition. Brown will need a substantial number of Obama voters to cross over and vote for him in the Senate race.
- Perform well enough in the debates i.e. no gaffes or awkward moments.
- Keep referring to Warren as "Professor Warren". Academic intellectuals do not score many points in the demographics that Brown is trying to reach.
- Drive the truck, it worked before.
- Appeal to the Democratic base, women, and minorities.
- Tie herself to President Obama (who remains popular in Mass) and the importance of Democrats retaining control of the US Senate.
- Tie Brown to the national and southern-dominated GOP. Nationalizing the election may offset Brown's local popularity.
- She won't win Independents, but needs to keep Brown's margin down.
- Portray herself as fighting for ordinary folk and remind voters that Brown is a Wall Street Republican.
- Beat Brown badly in the televised debates.
- Try to show a softer and more folksy side. She really needs to start connecting. Being preachy does not resonate past her base.
- Avoid gaffes - the Cherokee Indian fiasco of the spring did her no favors.
- Appeal to the Democratic base, women, and minorities. (yes this needs repeating!)
- Brown needs to win big in Central Mass, Southeastern Mass, and the North Shore, and stay competitive in Middlesex County. Outer cities such as Lowell, Fitchburg, and Worcester are critical. If he can fight Warren to a draw in these areas he will win.
- Warren needs a huge turnout in urban areas, college towns (Amherst, Cambridge, Northampton), and for Obama to win big in the state overall so she can benefit from Obama's coattails.
It will be a very close race. Warren by virtue of the "D" next to her name has a base of around 40%-45% just for showing up. Much of this will rest on how many Obama voters split their tickets. Brown does have an advantage in being the incumbent, personal popularity, and seems (so far) to have distanced himself enough from the national Republican Party to keep the support of many of the groups that propelled him to victory in January 2010.
If Romney crashes nationally, it will really boost Warren as dispirited Republicans may stay home. The debates with Brown and how the overall presidential fall campaigns evolves are essential to her winning.
However, Warren has to change the overall dynamics of the race. If it remains as it is, I think Brown ekes out a narrow victory.