It's no secret, or surprise, that Democrats want to portray Brown as a conservative in lock-step with the very unpopular national Republican Party. In the past few weeks, that has translated into a barrage of attacks on his support for "conscience clause" exemptions for employers offering health insurance — a position that puts him at odds with those who want to ensure coverage for birth-control costs.
Brown has pushed back aggressively on that issue. But, despite being on the opposite side of the birth-control issue from Georgetown Law School student-activist Sandra Fluke, Brown spoke out against Rush Limbaugh for trashing her on his radio show — and was one of the few Republican officeholders to do so.
Brown's stance on birth control might still hurt him among women, who are important swing voters in Massachusetts. But he is probably helping himself among conservative Catholic Democrats, who were key to his victory two years ago.
Those voters are still crucial to him — it's no accident that he has compared his position to Kennedy's. He has also been wooing them through his strong advocacy for an expansion of Irish immigration quotas.
That type of work — non-ideological, and often noticed only by those who follow the issue closely — is where Brown has been putting his energy, and his communications machine. Here are some of his most recent press releases: "Sen. Brown demands answers on USPS proposal to close MA plants"; "Sen. Brown defends MA military installations"; "Sen. Brown calls on Obama to speed up release of LIHEAP (heating oil assistance) funds."
Similarly, his Facebook page and campaign Web site are devoted first and foremost to showing the senator out and about — chatting with veterans, playing ball with kids, and meeting with civic groups.
"The pictures of him showing up at all these things — that is Scott," says Republican consultant Warren. At a late-season New England Patriots game, she saw Brown walking out with the rest of the crowd, responding with a wave to shouts of recognition. "He's not fancy. I think that's why Massachusetts likes him so much."
"He is a triathlete in campaigning," says Ann Murphy of O'Neill & Associates, a veteran of Massachusetts Republican campaigns. Where some other politicians have to be dragged out to small-scale appearances, Murphy says that Brown seems to actually enjoy it. "He never stopped doing it" after the 2010 election, she says.
Many Massachusetts political observers — across party lines — say that Brown's office has been impressively responsive on constituent-service inquiries. He has put together an impressive staff for that — even retaining Emily Winterson, Kennedy's immigration fix-it specialist.
Brown has also hosted two jobs fairs, with another scheduled this month in western Massachusetts — and, according to his office, just surpassed one million written responses to correspondence from constituents.
Those little appearances add up to a lot of goodwill. Murphy says that it will make it harder for Democrats to tar Brown as an out-of-touch, heartless, rubber-stamp Republican — it just won't jibe with the likable guy they've met, or read about.
Meanwhile, don't underestimate Brown's ability to define his opponent by comparison — without harming his own positive image, a boomerang affect that typically results from personal attacks.
Tellingly, Brown has not unleashed his bankroll to attack Warren — to define her negatively, before she has a chance to solidify a positive impression. Apparently he doesn't feel the need to — and the new polls suggest he might be right. ^
To read the Talking Politics blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dbernstein.