It was always going to be a larger-than-life battle. The Massachusetts Senate race—the most watched Senate contest of the cycle—pitted incumbent Scott Brown, the first major tea party victor of 2010, against liberal superstar Elizabeth Warren. Some polls showed a tied race even in the final week of the campaign, but Warren eked out a narrow victory Tuesday night.
Though Brown is widely liked in the Bay State and sought to cast himself as a bipartisan, independent member of the Senate, he fell short in deep-blue Massachusetts.
Ultimately, the race turned on Brown being a Republican running in Massachusetts with the state's former governor, Mitt Romney, at the top of the ticket. When the Senate race was called, President Obama was beating Romney by a whopping 20 points in the state, and the disadvantage was too much for the senator to overcome.
After months of framing the contest as a choice between her and Brown, Warren this fall embraced a strategy of nationalizing the race. Even if a voter liked Scott Brown and thought he's a good guy, her campaign argued, Bay Staters don’t want Republicans controlling the Senate. Meanwhile, Brown—who shares consultant Eric Fehrnstrom with Romney—sought to distance himself from the nominee and national party and emphasized his independence and ability to work across the aisle while painting Warren as a tax-loving partisan.
The race stood out from others: Although many candidates decried the influence of outside money, only Brown and Warren actually found a way to do something about it, with both signing a ban imposing a financial penalty on any campaign benefiting from such meddling. To the surprise of many observers, that ban remained intact through a nasty campaign. Although outside groups spent on things such as mailers and robo-calls, they remained off the airwaves.
However, there was no shortage of campaign cash: Ultimately Warren proved herself by far the most prolific fundraiser of any Senate candidate this cycle. And Brown, though not in her league, was head and shoulders above other Senate candidates in terms of building a war chest. Through mid-October, the two had spent close to $70 million on the race.
Despite her fundraising prowess and national liberal credentials from her work creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it was far from a glide path to victory for Warren. The first-time candidate stumbled early in the race: Throughout the spring she wrangled with questions about her claims of Native American heritage. And over the summer, as she dropped slightly behind Brown in polls, questions arose about her campaign and media strategy.
Without outside money, the race lacked negative ads long after most other races featured airwaves full of mud-slinging. But the race turned negative this fall, with the two sides taking distinctly different tacks: Brown tried to revive the Native American issue, tying the questions to Warren's character. He also took up other personal attacks, hitting his opponent on her previous work for Traveler's Insurance and LTV Steel.
Meanwhile, Warren started hitting Brown on the national GOP agenda and emphasized that a vote for him was a vote for GOP control of the Senate. Though he supports abortion rights and was the first senator to call on GOP Rep. Todd Akin to resign from Missouri's Senate race after his comments on "legitimate rape," she attacked him repeatedly on women's issues and tied him to his national colleagues.
Brown was swept into the late Ted Kennedy's seat in a surprise victory in a January 2010 special election, defeating Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley. This may not be the last we see of Brown: If Obama wins reelection and nominates Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as secretary of State, Brown is thought to be a likely candidate for Kerry's seat. Despite the bruising campaign, most polls have showed Brown retaining high personal favorability ratings, and there is no other obvious GOP candidate in the event that another Senate seat opens up.