"I don't know about you, but I love Celtics playoff basketball."
The statement, hardly controversial in Massachusetts, kicks off Sen. Scott Brown's new radio ad. While it references the hometown NBA team, current playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, the commercial doesn't mention anything about politics.
"When I was younger, we had Bird, McHale, Parish running up and down the court - the Big Three," says Brown in the ad. "Today Doc Rivers is leading a new cast of exciting players."
He continues for a full minute about the current team and concludes, "Go Celtics."
But running a campaign ad that doesn't broach politics, policy, or his life story in any way is not out of the ordinary for Brown. He has previously run a radio ad on Fenway and a separate one on the Red Sox. He's also released radio ads - both a bit more political -- on St. Patricks Day and Memorial Day (a la the presidential campaigns).
What's the point of Brown running these radio ads? The answer may lie in something Reid Wilson pointed out last week: it's all about favorability in the Massachusetts Senate race.
From Reid's piece:
In an atmosphere of broad and deep voter disenchantment, it's rare to see a race in which two candidates are actually popular. But in this year's marquee Senate contest, voters are largely optimistic about the direction of their state, and about the candidates running to represent them in the Senate.
The new Suffolk University survey shows just that: Voters are actually voting in favor of Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren... Brown holds a statistically insignificant 48 percent to 47 percent lead, but the rest of the survey reveals a race that will hinge on voters' positive impressions of both candidates.
Fully 92 percent of Brown voters say they're voting for the incumbent Republican, rather than against Warren. More than three quarters of Warren backers say they're voting for Warren, rather than against Brown. Those figures stand in stark contrast to the presidential contest; just 56 percent of voters who say they support Mitt Romney say they'll cast a ballot for their former governor, while 44 percent say their vote is meant to be a rejection of President Obama.
In deeply blue Massachusetts, Brown must win the favorability race to keep his job -- and so far he is. Brown's favorability rating stands at 58 percent, up six points since the last Suffolk survey, in February, while 28 percent view him unfavorably. Warren's net favorability rating is less impressive -- 43 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable -- but it's strong for a candidate who's never sought public office.
Most strategists watching the race closely, on both sides of the partisan divide, agree the race will come down to Warren's popularity. If she's seen favorably enough, the state's blue lean will be too much for Brown to overcome. That's why Brown is spending so much time playing up Warren's heritage: If his campaign can undermine Warren's credibility, and with it her popularity, he stands a much better chance.
Without the aid of outside groups, banned thanks to the so-called "people's pledge," Brown is going to have to target, and tarnish, Warren's image. Negative campaign ads can hurt both sides, and Brown can't afford to lose any votes, making his challenge all the more delicate.
If the race does hinge on popularity, Brown could do worse than having voters associate him with the Sox, Celtics, and holidays.
And with outside groups staying out of the race due to Brown and Warren's pact banning third party spending, it's a golden opportunity to cement his favorability, especially with Warren busy building name ID and defending herself in the midst of the controversy over her Native American heritage.
It also doesn't hurt for a Republican running in a blue state (in a presidential year) to spend some time talking about non-controversial issues that pretty much everyone agrees on.
Just don't be surprised in September, as the campaign really heats up, when Brown releases a radio ad waxing poetic about the Patriots.