Earlier in September, Brown’s campaign cut a TV ad highlighting his push for a bill to prohibit members of Congress from making stock transactions on their insider knowledge. The ad, like a radio spot the campaign ran a few months earlier, invokes Obama, the head of the opposition party. To make sure viewers didn’t miss the footage of Obama telling Brown “good job” at the bill signing, the campaign put the attaboy in a subtitle.
Brown aides, armed with market research, voting histories, and other data, have spent months identifying independents and wayward Democrats whom they think he can win. “We’re out there mining these voters to find supporters whom we will turn out on Election Day, and that will continue,” says Jim Barnett, Brown’s campaign manager. The campaign targets its messaging on an individual basis, so a voter concerned about Wall Street excess, for example, might get a call from a volunteer highlighting Brown’s deciding vote in 2010 to pass the landmark Dodd-Frank bill tightening regulations on the financial sector. Brown has also broken with many in his party by voting to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in favor of a jobs bill, and to ratify a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
Throughout the year, Brown has enjoyed a solid lead over Warren among unenrolled voters; a poll in late May by the Globe and the University of New Hampshire Survey Center had him winning registered independents 48 percent to 25 percent. Another outfit, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, had Brown winning independents by a similar margin in a poll conducted in mid-September.
Warren is wooing independents on the strength of her populist message, talking bluntly about why she believes the tax system is inequitable and why big banks should have more accountability. She hopes to find common cause with those who are fed up with Washington’s failings and believe things are rigged for the rich and powerful. Indeed, in interviews with independent voters, an exasperation with government for neglecting the little guy comes through loud and clear.
For Warren, though, a significant aspect of her campaign strategy is to get Democrats to the polls, including those who have not voted consistently in prior elections. Party officials say there are about 300,000 registered Democrats in Massachusetts who haven’t voted in the last three state elections. As of early September, Warren’s campaign, with the help of 35 field offices around the state, is going precinct by precinct, knocking on doors and even enlisting their targets’ friends and neighbors to get them involved. “That’s a really significant part of our effort,” says top Warren strategist Doug Rubin.
Public polls suggest some danger for Warren among Democrats and also some promise. First, the danger: It’s clear that, at least into mid-September, a sizable bloc of Democrats were either siding with Brown or flirting with him. Thirteen percent of Democratic respondents in September’s Public Policy Polling survey said they favored him.
Then, the promise: There is evidence that Warren is gaining traction among Democrats by nationalizing the race — emphasizing that a Brown victory could bring a Republican-controlled US Senate, a prospect surveys suggest is considerably less popular in Massachusetts than Brown himself. Though the Public Policy Polling September survey had the race virtually tied, 53 percent of respondents said they’d rather see the Senate remain under Democratic control, compared with 37 percent who said they’d want Republicans in charge. (Independents tilted slightly Republican on that question.)
BOTH CAMPAIGNS INSIST this is ultimately a race between Brown and Warren, not about control of the Senate. Brown’s camp remains encouraged by his enduring broad appeal. Warren’s is confident in its organization and message, believing there’s an important gap between the number of people who like Brown and the number willing to vote for him.
John Della Volpe, the director of polling for Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and founder of SocialSphere, a social media analytics company, paints a picture of the kind of voter who he says will probably decide the race. This voter is a working-class father, maybe a conservative Democrat or an independent, someone who has worked hard and played by the rules only to find himself suffering economically. And he’s finding no solace from Washington. “Is he going to connect with Brown because he wears the Bruins shirt and talks about fishermen and [Brown’s] a regular guy who’s going to be independent?” Della Volpe asks. “Or is he going to connect to what I would call bigger ideas about fairness?”