Republicans Keeping Their Faith in Scott Brown

Despite polls showing him struggling to make inroads in New Hampshire, Republicans insist he’ll surprise the skeptics.

OLD CUTLINE: Massachusetts Senator-elect, Republican Scott Brown greets supporters after speaking at his victory celebration on January 19, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in a special election to fill the seat of late U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
National Journal
Emily Schultheis
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Emily Schultheis
July 24, 2014, 1 a.m.

Former Sen. Scott Brown is down double di­gits in the polls, he’s likely to be out­spent by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and he’s got­ten head­lines lately for all the wrong reas­ons — re­but­ting al­leg­a­tions that he hid from a re­port­er in a bath­room to avoid tough ques­tion­ing.

But that hasn’t changed New Hamp­shire Re­pub­lic­ans’ preter­nat­ur­al con­fid­ence about Brown’s chances. They still view him as the world-beat­er who won a Sen­ate race in deep-blue Mas­sachu­setts, and in­sist that the com­bin­a­tion of a still-up­com­ing GOP primary and the state’s tend­ency for late-break­ing shifts in the polls will help nar­row the race this fall.

“Every­body would feel more com­fort­able if Brown was beat­ing her in the polls or with­in the mar­gin of er­ror,” said Re­pub­lic­an strategist Jam­ie Bur­nett, who ran former Sen. John Sununu’s 2002 and 2008 cam­paigns. “But I guess I’m not overly con­cerned right now when I see him 8 points down.”

Brown, the ex-sen­at­or from Mas­sachu­setts, entered the race in early April as part of a trio of GOP can­did­ates — in­clud­ing Rep. Cory Gard­ner in Col­or­ado and former Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Gillespie in Vir­gin­ia — who were touted as proof of the ex­pand­ing Sen­ate map for Re­pub­lic­ans.

A series of polls found him com­ing close to Shaheen that month: a Dart­mouth poll put him down just 3 points, and one from WMUR/UNH earli­er that month found him trail­ing by 6 points.

Those num­bers shif­ted this sum­mer, when pub­lic polling has shown Brown trail­ing by any­where between 8 and 12 points. The most re­cent poll, from NBC News/Mar­ist, had Brown be­hind Shaheen 50 per­cent to 42 per­cent.

Brown also trails in the money race: He has $1.5 mil­lion on hand, com­pared with Shaheen’s $5.1 mil­lion, and Shaheen out­raised him in the second quarter. Still, his haul — from his first quarter in the race — was $2.34 mil­lion, high­er than most GOP chal­lengers across the map.

But the head­lines in re­cent weeks haven’t been help­ful — and Demo­crats have glee­fully seized on bad press for Brown as proof he’s run­ning a bad cam­paign. Brown avoided a Brit­ish re­port­er’s ques­tion on the Hobby Lobby de­cision by get­ting up to go to the bath­room, giv­ing the im­pres­sion that he wasn’t well versed on a sig­ni­fic­ant cam­paign is­sue. In re­sponse, Brown’s cam­paign spokes­man noted that it doesn’t do in­ter­views with for­eign press, and said Brown dis­cussed Hobby Lobby with a hand­ful of loc­al ed­it­or­i­al boards that same week.

The race is cer­tainly an up­hill climb for Brown, which even Gran­ite State Re­pub­lic­ans ac­know­ledge. Un­seat­ing an in­cum­bent is nev­er easy, par­tic­u­larly one who re­mains fairly pop­u­lar.

“I don’t think there’s any ques­tion that Jeanne Shaheen is ahead and con­tin­ues to be favored for reelec­tion,” said Fer­gus Cul­len, a New Hamp­shire con­sult­ant who pre­vi­ously chaired the state Re­pub­lic­an Party. “That be­ing said “¦ I con­tin­ue to think that the race is likely to be, at a min­im­um, com­pet­it­ive.”

The GOP ar­gu­ment for Brown is simple. First, he’ll get a bump after the state’s Sept. 9 primary, when he con­sol­id­ates his GOP sup­port; and, second, voters won’t really tune in un­til after Labor Day any­way.

“Scott Brown’s path to vic­tory is simple: Con­sol­id­ate the Re­pub­lic­an base and split the in­de­pend­ent vote,” cam­paign man­ager Colin Reed wrote in a state-of-the-race memo earli­er this month. “In a very real sense, the race against Jeanne Shaheen doesn’t be­gin un­til after the primary when the pro­cess of uni­fy­ing the party can be­gin.”

Brown faces former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith and former state Sen. Jim Rubens in the primary; he’s ex­pec­ted to win eas­ily, but the con­test is pre­vent­ing him from fo­cus­ing full-time on Shaheen.

“I do think Brown is hampered a little bit in that he has a primary he can­not ig­nore,” Cul­len said. “He’s go­ing to win it and win it con­vin­cingly, but I think it’s in­ter­fer­ing with his abil­ity to run a gen­er­al-elec­tion-fo­cused cam­paign.”

Uni­versity of New Hamp­shire poll­ster Andy Smith said the elect­or­ate is still in­cred­ibly flu­id. In the most re­cent Gran­ite State Poll he con­duc­ted, just 17 per­cent of those sur­veyed said they had def­in­itely de­cided on a can­did­ate.

“Nobody’s pay­ing at­ten­tion — it’s sum­mer­time,” he said. “It’s not that [voters] are not see­ing this or that it’s not go­ing on, they’re just not fo­cused on it.”

Smith also noted that early polls in the race tend to over­es­tim­ate ac­tu­al turnout for the fall, which likely means Shaheen’s num­bers are slightly high­er than they should be.

Still, Brown has to find a way to ef­fect­ively make the case for oust­ing Shaheen, a former gov­ernor who’s still pop­u­lar in the state. Des­pite the out­side ads that have already been ham­mer­ing the sen­at­or, her fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings haven’t taken a ma­jor hit. In the NBC News/Mar­ist poll, 52 per­cent said they view her fa­vor­ably, com­pared with 39 per­cent who viewed her neg­at­ively.

“She’s very well-known here, she’s very well re­spec­ted “¦ she was a very good gov­ernor, so people trust her,” said Kathy Sul­li­van, a former chair­wo­man of the New Hamp­shire Demo­crat­ic Party. “As a res­ult of that, [Shaheen] has built up a really good reser­voir of good­will. So why change?”

Brown’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity in that poll, on the oth­er hand, was equally di­vided: 40 per­cent view him fa­vor­ably, com­pared with 39 per­cent who view him un­fa­vor­ably.

Demo­crats aren’t act­ing as if Shaheen has a sig­ni­fic­ant edge. Na­tion­al Demo­crat­ic groups, such as the Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity PAC and the League of Con­ser­va­tion Voters, are spend­ing money here in­stead of spend­ing it in oth­er battle­grounds. The Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee has already re­served $1 mil­lion in Manchester, N.H., air­time for the fall.

And the Koch-backed Free­dom Part­ners group is also bet­ting that the race will be com­pet­it­ive this fall: It has re­served $1.8 mil­lion in air­time on 20 Bo­ston cable sta­tions, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post, be­gin­ning after the primary.

“Brown is run­ning a first-class cam­paign, get­ting all the money [he needs], the mes­saging is good,” said Jim Mer­rill, a GOP con­sult­ant who ran Mitt Rom­ney’s 2012 op­er­a­tions in the state. “Around mid-Septem­ber, you’re go­ing to see this thing get aw­ful tight aw­ful quick.”

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