By Alexandra Jaffe - 09/18/12 10:18 PM EDT
Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren finds herself ahead in multiple recent polls of the Massachusetts Senate race — but her party remains cautious about her chances, and Republicans insist that the race isn’t over yet.
Coming off a well-received speech at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, three polls have shown her leading incumbent Sen. Scott Brown (R).
As Massachusetts Democratic consultant Mary Anne Marsh said, Warren seems to have the momentum heading into the final eight weeks of the campaign.
“Clearly she has the momentum, clearly she’s picked up support, and there’s no question that the support is coming from Democrats — that, increasingly, Democrats are really solidifying their support for Elizabeth Warren,” Marsh said.
But that doesn’t preclude a surge from Brown later in the campaign, or a gaffe from Warren that drops her back behind the freshman senator, as happened in February of this year.
The Brown campaign insists that it is unfazed by the new polls, and that this is just another bump in a race it expected to fluctuate frequently.
“It’s going to be a close race, but ultimately voters will have a clear choice between Scott Brown, a bipartisan problem-solver focused on putting people back to work, and Professor Warren, a self-described rock-thrower who has been called ‘catastrophically anti-business’ by leading Democrats,” said Brown campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre.
There’s evidence in the Suffolk poll that Warren is solidifying her base. Only 19 percent of voters in that poll indicated they’d be willing to split the ticket and vote for Brown while voting for President Obama, a drop from the 24 percent who said they would in May.
And if Warren can manage to turn out Democratic supporters in large numbers, she has less work to do than Brown in wooing the unaffiliated voters who make up over 50 percent of Massachusetts’s electorate.
Meanwhile, Brown, the freshman senator who stunned the political world when he won a special election for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat, has been distancing himself from elements of his own party.
He was one of the first Republicans to denounce Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s comment on the “47 percent,” telling The Hill, “That’s not the way I view the world.”
And he was one of the first to call on Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) to drop out of the Missouri Senate race after the lawmaker made a controversial remark on “legitimate rape.”
Democrats have made Brown’s seat a leading priority — and not just as retribution to help the party maintain control of the Senate. The Democratic leadership heavily courted Warren.
Part of Warren’s newly coalescing Democratic support in the state is the result of her successful push to nationalize the race, most prominently with her speech at the Democratic National Convention. Standing on the same stage, on the same night, as former President Clinton, Warren offered a brazenly liberal message to a national audience the night before Obama accepted his party’s nomination.
The Democratic Party came out of its convention with stronger enthusiasm than Republicans, and Warren is, in part, riding the momentum of her party.
That can only help Warren come November, in a state where Obama posted a 33-percentage-point lead over Romney in the last poll. Marsh said that Obama’s position atop the ticket will turn out more voters than in a non-presidential-election year, inevitably boosting Warren’s support.
Warren has also begun to shift her campaign into general-election mode in recent weeks, rolling out new ads that reflect a shift in media strategy toward spots featuring local Massachusetts citizens, as well as Warren herself, chatting face to face with the camera.
The first of those new ads, released last week, even jabbed slightly at Brown — something that both campaigns have thus far largely avoided. Brown denounced what he characterized as an unfair attack, but it’s likely that, as the race heats up, both candidates will show their negative side, and the Brown campaign said it wouldn’t preclude the possibility of negative ads in the future.
The three new polls put Warren in a good position going into the next, and possibly most important, phase of the campaign: the debates. The first will occur on Thursday night, and, in further evidence of the national appeal the Massachusetts Senate race holds, will be broadcast live on C-SPAN.
In Massachusetts, debates can make or break a race, veteran state GOP consultant Rob Gray said.
“In Massachusetts, there’s a history of debates making a big difference in close campaigns. We have four prime-time debates in the Massachusetts Senate race, and any of those could change the race significantly, if either Brown or Warren makes a misstep,” he said.
Debates hold so much sway over the electorate in Massachusetts because voters there are so enthusiastic about politics, and tune in early and often to such events.
In his 2010 Senate race, the debates were, Marsh and Gray agreed, pivotal for Brown. It was during one of his debates against Democratic challenger Martha Coakley that
Brown uttered his crowd-pleasing line, “It’s not the Kennedy seat, and it’s not the Democrats’ seat; it’s the people’s seat.” Marsh believes that this is one forum in which Brown will have little trouble shining.
“Scott Brown did very well in the debates two years ago against Martha Coakley. It’s something he does very well,” she said.
But Warren, too, has shown herself to be a formidable debater, Marsh added, coming across in one primary debate as funny — somewhat surprising at the time for the candidate who has been successfully pegged by the Brown campaign as an elite Harvard professor, and who hasn’t yet connected as successfully with Massachusetts voters.
Gray said that task — connecting with voters on a human level — should be the goal for her during the debates.
“She can come off as a bit preachy and a bit alien to Massachusetts because she’s not from Massachusetts originally. She’s going to have to, I would call it, de-Cambridge and de-Harvard-ize herself a little bit, because she can come off as professorial and high-minded and politically correct,” he said.