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
Add to Briefcase
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.”

What We're Following See More »
IBD/TIPP Poll Shows a Dead Heat
1 hours ago

A new Investor’s Business Daily/TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence poll shows Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each earning 41% support. On the one hand, the poll has been skewing in Trump's favor this year, relative to other polls. But on the other, data guru Nate Silver called the IBD/TIPP poll the most accurate in 2012.

Come January Sanders Could Oppose Clinton from the Left
3 hours ago

"Sen. Bernie Sanders, a loyal soldier for Hillary Clinton since he conceded the Democratic presidential nomination in July, plans to push liberal legislation with like-minded senators with or without Clinton’s support if she is elected— and to aggressively oppose appointments that do not pass muster with the party’s left wing." Sanders and other similarly inclined senators are already "plotting legislation" on climate change, prison reform, the minimum wage, and tuition-free college.

McAuliffe Donated to FBI Official’s Wife
3 hours ago

"The political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an influential Democrat with longstanding ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use."

Curt Schilling to Launch Breitbart Radio Show
3 hours ago

Baseball great Curt Schilling says he still needs to clear a challenge to Sen. Elizabeth Warren with his wife, but in the meantime, he's found something to occupy him: the former hurler is going to host a daily online radio show on "The show marks Schilling’s return to media six months after ESPN fired him for sharing an anti-transgender Facebook post."

The New Yorker Endorses Clinton
4 hours ago

The New Yorker has endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying that "barring some astonishment," she will become the next president. Calling Clinton "distinctly capable," the magazine excoriates Donald Trump as a candidate who "favors conspiracy theory and fantasy, deriving his knowledge from the darker recesses of the Internet and 'the shows.'" Additionally, the historical nature of the possibility of "send[ing] a woman to the White House" is not lost on the editors, who note the possibility more than once in the endorsement.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.