The poll offers other encouraging numbers for both sides: 56 percent say the state benefits from a delegation that includes one Republican and one Democrat, giving Brown an argument against Massachusetts' Democratic establishment (Voter dissatisfaction with Democrats on Beacon Hill have given Republicans a better shot at winning the governorship in recent years, and even current Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, came from outside the state party machine). And 59 percent say they plan to vote for President Obama, giving Warren coattails and forcing Brown to compete for increasingly rare split-ticket voters.
And there are troubling signs for each candidate. Brown doesn't poll above 50 percent even when he's matched up against little-known Democrat Marisa DeFranco. Warren's team takes solace in the fact that just a quarter of those who have heard about the controversy surrounding her Native American heritage believe she's lying, but they should be less sanguine about the 41 percent who believe she benefitted from that designation.
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.