We continue to follow the Scott Brown reelection fight because the presumed Elizabeth Warren v Brown matchup will probably be the most closely watched Senate race in 2012.
Public Policy Polling released the results of its latest survey, which show that the press surrounding the Warren campaign launch has led to a big change in the results:
Elizabeth Warren has had an incredibly successful launch to her Senate campaign and actually leads Scott Brown now by a 46-44 margin, erasing what was a 15 point deficit the last time we polled the state in early June….
The surprising movement toward Warren has a lot to do with her but it also has a lot to do with Scott Brown. We now find a slight plurality of voters in the state disapproving of him- 45%, compared to only 44% approving. We have seen a steady decline in Brown’s numbers over the last 9 months. In early December his approval was a +24 spread at 53/29. By June it had declined to a +12 spread at a 48/36. And now it’s continued that fall to its current place…
There are positive signs for Brown in the poll. 47% of voters still consider him to be more an ‘independent voice for Massachusetts’ than the 41% who think he’s been more focused on being ‘a partisan voice for the national Republican Party.’ And 45% of voters still consider him ideologically ‘about right’ compared to just 38% who think think he’s ‘too conservative.’ He’s running 35 points ahead of the Republican Party as a whole on that question- 56% of Massachusetts voters think it’s ‘too conservative’ and only 29% think it’s ‘about right.’ Still Brown isn’t seen to be in the ideological mainstream to quite the extent he had been previously- his about right/too conservative spread was 50/33 on our June poll and 53/33 on our December poll.
This poll was taken over the weekend right after a week of positive press surrounding Warren’s candidacy announcement. It’s possible that gave her a bounce that may recede some in the coming weeks. But that doesn’t change Brown’s falling approval numbers- this looks like it will be a highly competitive race.
Brown’s big advantage in his initial run was that he was a protest candidate, and if NC readers are at all representative of Massachusetts voters generally, there was plenty of free floating anger ready to attach itself to him. I had one Democratic party reader say she had voted for Brown because Obama had been unresponsive to her interests, and the panic over the loss led to at least a short-term effort to appease the left, via hauling Paul Volcker out of mothballs. Tom Ferguson’s district by district research also found that votes for Brown were highly correlated with housing price declines (as in the steeper the fall, the higher the level of Brown votes).
Brown can no longer be an empty vessel who can pretend to satisfy everyone from the middle to the right; he is turning out to be, not surprisingly, a Republican, which is not so well received on either the left or right end of the people who voted for him.
However, Warren does have a problem which is likely not registering in the current polls but will become more acute as the election approaches, which is her relationship with Obama.
I’ve got the Ron Suskind book on Obama’s economics team, and the opening scene is Obama announcing the appointment of Warren as assistant to him and the Treasury Department to start up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Suskind confirms our thesis that Warren had no chance of ever becoming the permanent head of the agency; the banking industry had apparently made it a condition of assenting to its creation, but had later dropped that from their official requests, since they had hamstrung the agency in other ways (note that industry mouthpieces later had not problem in depicting the agency as unusually powerful). And Geithner was so keenly opposed to Warren that he had tried to develop a strategy to neutralize her but failed.
Obama is a neoliberal. He does not stand for Warren’s agenda, hence his refusal to fight for her. She was of use merely as an ornament to appease the traditional Democrat base (I honestly doubt that they care whether or not she did a good job of setting up the agency). She’s continued to serve Obama and the needs of the Democratic party by taking up their idea of the Senate run. And she has to play nice through the primaries; I’m told by experienced political observers that party support is key in primary fights.
But absent a miracle, Obama looks to be over for 2012. Unless the economy improves enough to make a dent in unemployment, it’s hard to see how he will win. And his embrace of deficit hawkery plus state and local budget cuts assure more downward pressure on an already weak economy. The consensus among economists, not surprisingly, is that housing prices continue to fall in 2012. Even if the Republicans serve up a Gorgon as their nominee, Democrats are dispirited enough that apathy will lead to fatally low turnout in key districts.
And state candidates are likely to suffer even more from the taint of association with failed Obama policies. So while Warren can’t distance herself from Obama now, a failure to do so when she has more freedom to maneuver could prove to be highly damaging. Team Obama is not and has never been her friend, and the sooner she acts on that knowledge, the better.