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Third Senate Debate: Can Warren Stay On The Offensive?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

 

Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren may be facing an uphill battle in the third Massachusetts Senate debate on Wednesday after a new poll found Republican Senator Scott Brown taking the lead in the highly-contested race.

Brown came in 4 points ahead of Warren, 47-43, in a WBUR poll released Tuesday. The survey was conducted October 5 to 7 and included 501 likely voters with a 4.4 percent margin of error.

A Boost From Romney

While the new poll is the first to take place after the candidates' second debate in Lowell last week, Clark University Political Science Professor Robert Boatright said he doubted the survey says much about Brown and Warren's last meeting.

"All it shows is that the race is close," he said.

"It was taken, however, immediately after the presidential debate, so perhaps it is capturing an increase in enthusiasm for Romney, which may be rubbing off on Brown a little bit."

The WBUR poll showed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney trailing President Barack Obama by 18 points, 52-36, in the heavily-Democratic Commonwealth, but less than the 28-point deficit the former Bay State Governor faced in the group's previous poll last month.

"The biggest change in the political environment has been Romney’s comeback and Obama’s poor performance in the last debate," said Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.

"Neither of these things affect the Massachusetts Senate debate, but it creates a more favorable situation for Brown than Warren. Romney may not be as radioactive for Senator Brown as he has been in the past."

Morgan Marietta, a professor of Political Science at UMass-Lowell, said that Romney and Brown have been running parallel politically in recent days, with Brown enjoying a boost from the national race without having to wrestle with the more right-wing baggage the national GOP often carries.

"Both have appeared solid and competent in the early debates. Both have appeared less partisan and more agreeable than their opponents would have voters believe. And both have risen to an unexpected lead in the polls because of this," Marietta said.

The Expectations Game

But a rising Republican tide and a new lead in the polls could prove to be a mixed blessing for the incumbent Senator, especially with another debate still in the pipeline.

"It does set the bar higher for Brown," said West. "In debates, it is better to outperform low expectations than under-perform high expectations."

After being declared the winner of the first debate and dropping the second to Brown, expectations should work in Warren's favor when she takes the stage in Springfield.

A UMass-Amherst poll released later in the day on Tuesday found Warren hanging onto a 2-point lead, 48-46, over Brown. That survey was conducted online by YouGov America between October 2 and 8 and had a sample of 500 registered voters with a margin of error of 5 percent.

"Elizabeth is looking forward to debating in Springfield tomorrow night and talking about the clear difference between her and Scott Brown on the important issues facing families throughout Massachusetts," said Alethea Harney, press secretary for the Warren campaign.

"While Scott Brown stands with billionaires and the big corporations, Elizabeth is fighting for a level playing field for working families and small businesses. Elizabeth knows people in the Commonwealth need a strong partner in Washington who will fight to create jobs."

Staying The Course

How the Democratic hopeful will achieve those goals--and how Brown will fight back--remains to be seen. At this point, Boatright said, the majority of voters have already formed their impressions of the two candidates based on the first two debates, and the professor did not expect the meeting to be as important for political content.

"I expect Brown to triple down on Cherokee, asbestos, and other character attacks on Warren," said Blue Mass Group's Charley Blandy.

"I'm a little more curious to see if Warren acts differently, if at all. I think she's been pretty game to talk about her background, and has used his attacks to highlight her support from asbestos workers. Does she take a stronger, 'have you no shame' kind of line against these Rovian attacks?"

Marietta did not anticipate many surprises either, with both candidates continuing on their respective paths that have a kept the race so close with less than four weeks to go until Election Day.

"Brown is likely to stick with what got him into the lead: a calm demeanor, no apology for opposing taxes, and emphasizing his non-partisan record and Warren's ethics," he said.

"Warren will continue to showcase her reform credentials and opposition to corporate greed, while attempting to deflate Brown's reputation for non-partisanhip." 

 

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