A survey conducted for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released on Tuesday asked respondents whether they were more or less likely to vote for Warren based on the things they had seen or heard about her. Thirty-nine percent said they were more likely while 38 percent said they were less likely.
One plausible explanation for the split decision is that while voters have read a lot of negative stories about Warren flubbing the heritage story, they've also been exposed to positive paid media spots about her. She's outspent Brown on TV ads and recently had the airwaves to herself for almost three weeks.
"Scott Brown is in a good position. Despite being outspent on TV 3 to 1 in the months of April and May ... he has a one point lead over Warren," wrote Brown pollster Neil Newhouse
in a memo responding to the Suffolk poll.
But Brown's been up with significant radio buys of his own. And the almost daily coverage the heritage issue has received in the state's biggest newspapers amounts to a massive heap of negative earned media against the Democrat.
"The amount of earned media on this story alone you could not have purchased," said Massachusetts Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh
At a minimum, the controversy has veered Warren off-message for a month and has forced her to devote time responding to the issue. That's time that would be better spent on other matters. On Thursday, she was asked how she knew she was part Native American and replied
, "because my mother told me so." Responses like that are the ones keeping the story alive.
The Brown camp also has staked political capital on the scuffle. His aides have put a lot of eggs into a basket that hasn't delivered concrete results for them yet.
"Scott Brown's desperate attempts to distract voters from his own Republican record are simply not working," said DSCC spokesman Matt Canter
The polls reinforce a truism about the political landscape this cycle. National issues like the economy and the two parties' stewardship of the path to recovery are generally going to trump parochial issues in statewide races, save for blockbuster developments.
From a process standpoint, the biggest takeaway from the Native American tussle has been the way the Warren campaign has handled the story. It hasn't had much luck steering the discussion toward Wall Street oversight, which is Warren's bread-and-butter issue. If faced with bigger distraction in the fall, the campaign can't afford to respond the same way if it hopes to escape unscathed.