All eyes are on the Massachusetts Senate race between incumbent Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren, which could potentially determine the control of the upper chamber of Congress next year. Recent polling has shown Warren pulling away, with leads between 4 and 7 percentage points. While most polls still have Brown within the margin of error, he and other Republicans have a real reason to be worried.
In 2010, Democrat Deval Patrick beat Republican Charlie Baker for his second term as Massachusetts governor. Exit polls conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that while Baker held onto 97% of Republicans and 53% of independents, he still lost the election by over 6 points. This, despite mid-term elections historically having lower, more conservative turnout and the general Tea Party wave that swept across the country in 2010. Baker lost for a simple reason: There are a lot of Democrats in Massachusetts. Not even his lead among independents and conservatives was enough to overcome the demographic disadvantage all Republicans face in this traditionally blue state.
To that end, Scott Brown’s re-election hopes hinge on two numbers: the turnout rate, and how many independents he can pull away from Warren.
High turnout usually favors Democratic candidates, while the inverse is true for Republicans. Brown’s campaign is focusing on getting out the vote in the more conservative pockets of the state, including the Cape and the South Shore. He has a tough fight ahead of him: Massachusetts Democrats have a rich and successful history of GOTV efforts, and the grassroots push for Warren has been in effect for months.
Further, history has shown that a Democrat can lose independents by 15 points, and still win handily. However, Brown is doing much better than Patrick did two years ago: All recent polling has his lead among this coveted group at anywhere from 21% to 39%. Only time will tell if this is enough of a lead in such a heavily liberal state, especially when Warren has solidified the Democratic vote (something Brown’s last challenger, Martha Coakley, failed to do).
Scott Brown has an uphill battle against demographics and history. He needs at least one quarter of all independents, as well as every Republican in the state, to cast a ballot for him. Otherwise, Massachusetts is likely to elect its first female Senator ever.