After months without new polling on the high-profile Massachusetts Senate race, four firms took the pulse of the race in February — all finding incumbent Republican Scott Brown ahead of presumed Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren.
GOODWILL HUNTING Brown has focused on campaigning and constituent service instead of potentially divisive ideology.
Brown's lead, of between five and 10 percentage points, came as a surprise to many Democrats, who have been encouraged by Warren's quick rise in popularity, her eye-popping fundraising, and the enlistment of huge numbers of enthusiastic campaign volunteers.
The numbers also seem to defy the major national political experts, all of whom have the Brown-Warren election categorized as "toss-up."
Previous polling on the race has provided fluctuating and contradictory results. But expectations for Warren soared after a Boston Herald poll in December showed her with a seven-point lead over Brown, 49 to 42 percent.
That led Brown to label himself the "underdog" in the race — despite the advantages of incumbency, and a war chest of well over $10 million — a spin that Warren political adviser Doug Rubin rejects.
"We believe this is going to be an uphill fight, and Scott Brown is the front-runner," Rubin says. "That's how we're approaching the campaign."
Putting aside the spin from both sides, the reality is that state GOP insiders expect Brown to win, and have felt that way even before the recent polling evidence.
"Most people on the Republican side are pretty confident that he's not going to have any problem," says Meredith Warren of Lyric Consulting, which advises GOP candidates.
At the least, the new polling should dispel an erroneous presumption about the Massachusetts electorate — which, despite the state's reputation, does not reflexively seek out liberals for state-wide office.
Even Ted Kennedy, as great a hero to the left as he was, depended more on constituent services than ideology to secure re-election.
That's a lesson Brown fully understands. In his memoir, published in early 2011, Brown wrote little about his ideology or policy goals. But he did describe his non-stop, often door-to-door campaigning, which he credits for success throughout his political career.
That doggedness became a symbol of his underdog 2010 run. But it is nothing new for Brown, and almost always pays off, whether applied to his high-school and college basketball career, or his State Senate victories.
He has kept it up ever since entering the Senate, diligently maintaining and expanding his connection to people and communities all over the commonwealth.
Brown has also walked a fine line in Washington, giving his party leaders the votes they need, while dissenting where he can. The National Journal recently ranked his 2011 voting record as more moderate than all but two Republican senators.
Eight months still remain before the election, and millions of dollars are yet to be spent. Turnout for the presidential election — which will draw out black, Hispanic, and younger voters — will heavily favor Democrats, compared against the special election that Brown won by five percentage points.
So it's too soon to predict a winner now. But anyone who thinks Brown is starting from behind needs to take a closer look.