Brown faces a unique challenge

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) faces a unique challenge among GOP candidates — that Republican control of the Senate is a stigma.

Unlike his colleagues, many of whom have used the prospect of a Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and 51 Republican votes in the upper chamber as a selling point for their bids, Brown has downplayed his GOP ties.

But, in order to run a competitive race in Massachusetts, he needs to raise millions, and pitches based on majority control of the Senate play well with Republican donors.

In at least one invitation to a fundraising event with Brown as the special guest, the National Republican Senatorial Committee pitched it as part of an effort “to gain a majority in the Senate in 2012,” according to the Sunlight Foundation’s Party Time blog, which obtained a copy of the invite.

And a number of websites connected to Brown’s official site, where supporters can donate funds to his campaign, offer majority control of the Senate as a selling point.

The discrepancy between Brown’s message on the stump and his message to donors illustrates just how fine a line he must walk in order to maintain support among Massachusetts moderates as well as Republican donors.

Brown’s campaign did not respond to requests for comments but his supporters have argued that Massachusetts’ voters don’t care about such a national issue but will make their choice based on the individual candidate.

And Brown does beat Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren in areas of likability, which he has used to his advantage.

Warren, meanwhile, is aware her best bet is to nationalize the race and emphasize Brown’s GOP ties. If the freshman senator takes on the mantle of the national party, voters who may otherwise like him could find reason to shift support.

She’s begun to focus on doing just that, highlighting Brown’s connection to a Republican majority multiple times during their first debate.

"It's not just about Sen. Brown's vote, this is about the votes of all of the Republicans," she said at one point, warning that if Republicans regained control of the Senate, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who denies the existence of climate change, would become chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

It’s an attempt that, if she's successful, could be toxic to Brown’s campaign, Massachusetts GOP strategist Rob Gray said.

"Warren's strategy is purposeful and certainly has a good chance of being effective," he said.

The Republican brand is far from strong in the deep-blue state of Massachusetts. Over 50 percent of Massachusetts voters are unaffiliated, and another 37 percent were registered Democrats in 2010, making this a difficult race for even the most moderate Republican to win.

And, with President Obama posting solid double-digit leads over Mitt Romney in nearly every poll in the state, Brown needs to distance himself from the national party to hope to snag the split-ticket voters he’ll need to win in November.

It’s explains why Brown sells himself as an independent. Recent mailings sent out across the state called him an "independent voice delivering for us" and featured Democrats who support Brown touting his nonpartisan credentials. His first ad, titled "Independent," featured a clip from his 2010 acceptance speech during which he characterized his win as "the independent majority" delivering "a great victory."

Boston University Social Sciences professor Thomas Whalen said that Brown has thus far pitched himself to Massachusetts as a nonpartisan reformer. If he comes across as closely-aligned with the Republican Party, "that's a potential killer to his candidacy," he said.

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