Another day, another poll in the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts between Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Conducted by WBUR and Mass. Inc, the poll — the tenth independent survey taken in the last month — shows Brown leading the Harvard Law professor by four points among likely voters 47% to 43%. According to Real Clear Politics, it's the first independent poll showing Brown ahead since a UMass-Lowell/Boston Herald survey conducted in mid-September had Brown ahead by four. It is the first poll taken since the candidates' second debate in Lowell. Incredibly, Brown does not appear to have been harmed by saying that Antonin Scalia is his idea of a model Supreme Court justice. Go figure.
When respondents who have not fully made up their minds but who are leaning toward one candidate are included, Brown's lead drops to three in the WBUR/Mass Inc. poll. Real Clear Politics breaks down the excessive number of polls from this expensive and closely watched race.
Brown's new-found lead is difficult to explain, considering nothing groundbreaking seems to have happened in his favor since the last poll showed him trailing by five. The debate in Lowell was hardly his best moment of the campaign, as he came off as his usual dismissive self, beginning multiple responses with an ironically irreverent-sounding, "With all due respect..." His greatest blunder, which should have garnered far more scrutiny than it has thus far, was his response to moderator David Gregory's question about who his model Supreme Court justice is:
Aside from saying Roger Taney, that's just about the worst answer Brown could have come up with while running for office in the state of Massachusetts. Scalia's opinions are often little more than a straight-up toeing of the hard-right ideological line masquerading as principled judicial ruminations written in a colorful manner. For him, there is no constitutional right to privacy, which means there is no constitutional right to abortion, and no constitutional right to consensual sex between adults in a private residence. He has also said that nothing in the Constitution bans discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. In his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia equated gay sex with incest and bestiality.
If this latest poll is any indication, the Scalia remark didn't hurt Brown at all, even though it should cost him the election outright in a state such as Massachusetts. Then again, what is surprising is that in a supposedly smart state, this race has thus far hinged on personality issues more than actual policy stances. One of the things I would like to know, for example, is where the two candidates stand on the regulation of financial derivatives, which played a key role sinking the U.S. and global economies in the wake of the housing market crashing. Granted, most voters don't know what a derivative is, but that doesn't mean it's not important. Instead, Massachusetts voters are treated to two consecutive debates where the opening subject is Warren's claim to Native American heritage.
Sadly, it's possible that the voters in Massachusetts are into that sort of discussion — a discussion on who may or may not be Cherokee; who may or may not have seen photos of Osama bin Laden's dead body, and who may or may not speak with kings and queens. I still hold out hope that during the next two debates, there will be an actual substantive discussion on what the candidates are going to do to get Americans back to work, and what they're going to do to prevent those jobs from being lost by a future Great Recession.