Former Sen. Scott P. Brown’s path to victory in the New Hampshire Senate race has widened.
Once a second-tier race that seemed unlikely to impact control of the Senate, a trio of recent polls show the race between Brown and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has tightened.
A CNN/ORC poll released Monday had the race tied at 48 percent. A WMUR/UNH poll from early August put Shaheen ahead, 46 percent to 44 percent. A CBS/New York Times/YouGov poll conducted in the final weeks of August and early September had Shaheen with 47 percent to Brown's 41 percent.
Shaheen remains the front-runner, but even Democrats acknowledge the race has moved to a single-digit contest — and Republicans are more bullish about Brown’s chances than ever. “Everyone is more optimistic, almost without exception, than they were two months ago,” New Hampshire Republican political operative Charlie Arlinghaus said of Republicans. “Part of it is that it just feels more Republican on the ground than it did, it feels like the mood leans more right than it did.”
Republicans say Brown has impressed with his campaigning and suggest voters have largely moved past the idea that the former Massachusetts senator is a carpetbagger.
“He’s a bear on retail politicking, and I think that’s a big thing here,” said New Hampshire Republican operative Tom Rath. “He’s been at every pub and diner in the state, and he seems to just relish that.”
As for the carpetbagging, Rath said people have sort of gotten over it. “We know he’s a Red Sox fan,” Rath said.
Democrats acknowledge the race is competitive, but say they believe it will break in Shaheen’s favor by single digits.
“I think Jeanne Shaheen will win," said Kathy Sullivan, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. "It could be six points; it could be seven or eight."
Democrats point to Shaheen’s personal popularity with New Hampshire voters, and even Republicans acknowledge that she is well-liked in the state. The CNN/ORC poll found her approval rating at 54 percent among likely voters, with just 42 percent disapproving of her.
Democrats also say Brown, whose favorability was upside down in the CNN/ORC poll, could struggle to weather the increased scrutiny of the final weeks of the election.
When Brown was elected in 2010 in a special election, “people paid attention to him for two weeks,” said Massachusetts based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. In 2012, when there was far more scrutiny, she said, “he did not wear well under the lights" when he lost to now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Democrats expect Brown could have a similar problem in the Granite State, where voters are known to aggressively vet their nominees.
If this state is in play, it could be a headache for Democrats. The party has focused most of its resources on helping incumbents in competitive Senate races in states the president lost last cycle — in some cases by double digits. In the cycle's battle for resources, Democrats cannot afford to have a state like New Hampshire on the table.
On Monday, Shaheen's allies pushed back on the CNN poll. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released an internal survey showing Shaheen ahead of Brown, 51 percent to 43 percent.
Shaheen has also emphasized her deep roots in the state.
“I didn’t just move here. I’ve been here, working to make a difference for New Hampshire,” Shaheen told supporters in a speech on primary night, The Associated Press reported. “No matter where Scott Brown lives, he’s going to put Scott Brown first. Not you. Not your family. Not New Hampshire.”
Shaheen's ads have underscored a similar message, reminding voters why they like her, and why they elected her as governor and then senator in the first place. A series of positive ads showed voters talking about ways Shaheen had helped them, and things she had done for the state. The day after the primary, Shaheen went up with one positive ad in that vein, and another ad attacking Brown for “selling out” to “big oil companies” and Wall Street, and not working for the people of New Hampshire. The photo in the ad shows Brown wearing a tuxedo.
The national environment appears to be trending in Brown’s favor, and New Hampshire is a state that has historically followed those trends.
“If the race is about Jeanne Shaheen and her service in the Senate, she’s probably going to win,” Rath said. “If the race is about Barack Obama as the president of the United States, she’s probably going to lose.”
It's why Brown is working to drive that connection home. His first ad after the primary attacks Shaheen for voting with Obama “99 percent of the time.”
In 2006, Democrats swept the Granite State, defeating two House Republicans and holding the governorship. In 2008, when President Barack Obama was first elected, Democrats held both House seats and the governorship, and Shaheen defeated a Republican incumbent to be elected to the Senate. They were both strong cycles for national Democrats.
But in 2010, a strong year for Republicans, things went the other way. Democrats held the governorship but lost both House seats, and Republican Kelly Ayotte was overwhelmingly elected to the Senate.
In 2012, it swung back again; Obama was re-elected, Democrats won both House seats and the state elected a Democratic governor.
And this year, the winds certainly seem to be blowing to the right — at least enough to put the seat in play.
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