Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 12, 2016

‘Simple’ Doesn’t Equal ‘Easy’ in N.H. Senate Race

scott brown

Brown is running for Senate in New Hampshire. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Having written about House and Senate races for the past 30 years, I’ve seen plenty of press releases, polling memos and campaign strategy emails. But rarely have I received anything as silly as a July 9 press release from New Hampshire Republican Senate hopeful Scott P. Brown’s campaign, which presented the challenger’s alleged “Path To Victory.”

First, let me note that Brown is virtually certain to be the Republican nominee against incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. If the Republican wave is large enough in the fall, or if Shaheen makes enough errors between now and Election Day, Brown could win. It isn’t impossible, just unlikely at this point. (The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call currently rates the contest as Democrat Favored.)

That said, the press release from Colin Reed, Brown’s campaign manager, screams to be picked apart.

“Scott Brown’s path to victory is simple: consolidate the Republican base and split the Independent vote,” begins Reed as if he is explaining to a small child that mittens go on the hands and shoes go on the feet.

In fact, the arithmetic may be clear, but the path is anything but easy to traverse.

This “simple” path to victory proved a bit harder than Reed suggests for the past five GOP nominees for governor, all of whom lost their races, and for five of the past six Republican presidential nominees (George Bush in 1992, Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012), all of whom failed to carry the state and its electoral votes.

Romney, who served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts (the same state represented in the U.S. Senate by Brown), drew only 46 percent of the vote against President Barack Obama in 2012.

In that race, independent voters went for Obama 52 percent to 45 percent, according to the exit poll. Apparently, Romney found that splitting the independent vote wasn’t all that easy.

Reed notes in the memo that “polls are not very determinative at this stage of the race.” I agree with him, and he should have left it at that.

But instead, he proceeds to note that in 2009, “early surveys had Brown trailing by 41 points against Martha Coakley,” and he adds that one poll “showed him down 15 percent just 10 days before he won that election by five points.”

Equating Brown’s position in that special election to his situation now is so silly that Reed must think that all the readers of his memo are idiots.

A September 2009 special election Senate survey conducted by Suffolk University found Coakley leading Brown by an overwhelming 30 points, 54 percent to 24 percent. But Coakley’s total name identification was 69 percent, while Brown’s stood at less than half of that, 33 percent.

That’s not shocking of course since Coakley was a statewide elected official from the majority party and Brown was a state senator from a largely irrelevant political party. Of course, the timing of the special election was one of the reasons why Brown was able to rally from the large initial deficit.

This cycle, things are very different.

The most recent NBC News/Marist poll had Shaheen leading by eight points, 50 percent to 42 percent. It also has both the incumbent and the challenger with high name ID. Shaheen’s hard name ID (favorable + unfavorable) was 91 percent, while Brown’s was 79 percent.

Both candidates are much better known now than Coakley and Brown were in September of 2009, which isn’t surprising. Brown has now run two high-profile Senate races, albeit in neighboring Massachusetts, and he served as a United States senator from the Commonwealth.

Third, Reed observes that Brown drew 11 percent of Democrats against Democrat Elizabeth Warren in his re-election bid in 2012, and if he does that again in November, “he will achieve a convincing victory” over Shaheen.

That’s true. And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Warren was and is a much more polarizing, ideological figure than Shaheen is, so it isn’t surprising that a significant number of Democrats defected to Brown, a relatively moderate Republican incumbent who had demonstrated independence in his almost three years in office.

But now Brown is a carpetbagger and running against Shaheen, who begins with strong personal poll ratings.

It’s also the case that the electorates of the two states are different, and equating the two is again dangerous and misleading. Democratic voters defected to the GOP at a higher rate in Massachusetts than in New Hampshire in each of the last three presidential elections.

In other words, it appears easier for a Republican candidate to attract Democratic defectors in Massachusetts than in New Hampshire, which would make it more difficult for Brown to win in November.

There is a thoughtful case to be made that Brown has a path to victory, even if it isn’t an easy one. Unfortunately, Reed doesn’t bother to make it.

Related Stories:

Imperfect People Get Elected to the Senate

2016 Hopefuls Steer Clear of Scott Brown Senate Bid

Relieved Senate Republicans Look Forward to November

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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  • jameswhite15

    Reed would do much better to get Brown out of the bathroom and have him answer questions posed by journalists. Currently, there is limited access to the Centerfold. Even the Campaign Web Page provides no room for questions or comments. Perhaps Mr. Brown doesn’t know what to say at this point and he always has to recall which State he is running in.

  • DaddyPhatsax

    Note that Professor Colin Reed is actually a Chris Christie operative, in NH to wow the local GOP machine in advance of Christie’s 2016 storming of the state primary.

    Advanced bridgeheads may not be a good strategy for the Christie machine. He does better as fresh fish, not someone with baggage. For example, the NJ Republican Committee got Chris Christie re-elected Governor of NJ, and now that same committee is seeing dwindling donations, is under criminal investigation, and is in hock to its defense lawyers and shamuses.

    It appears that two of the geniuses who did that to NJ–Colin Reed and Matt Mowers, either one of who could possibly be indicted for violation of federal election laws–are now doing the same for NH. I mean, if they can get their candidate to remember what state he is in (ha ha). And they sure are doing a heck of a job for their candidate.

    • 1Prop

      The Christie twins are also not good for Brown because Christie doesn’t like campaigning in anyone’s shadow. Christie needs to be the star. he can’t have a US Senator taking his limelight – look at NJ last year.

  • 1Prop

    That’s a losing strategy. Democrat-leaning independents are often more committed than many registered Dems. You have the peal away disgruntled Dems. But, it may not be about winning. It may just be laying ground work for Christie. Brown should reconsider his staff.

  • baby_doc_obama

    why would anyone vote for the carpet bagger brown?

  • DanialThom

    In other words, people who live in NH are a bunch of partisan dopes who are going to vote for the Democrat no matter how badly they’ve failed or how good the message of the challenger.

  • jameswhite15

    I just don’t understand the Brown Campaign….they do not allow important questions – yet the Candidate talks sort of nonsense to educated people. Come out of the bathroom and answer questions Mr. Brown!!

  • joebuilder


    If you really knew the NH retail style of politics you’d understand that Reed is spot on. Politico had an earlier article by WMUR’s political correspondent Jim Pindell that clearly articulated the non-carpetbagger issue against Brown. The only ones who bring it up are the RW conservative TP folks or the progressives. The 90% that are important don’t care.

    Brown has the traditional GOP,
    He’ll have most of the other GOP after the Primary
    He’ll get the vast majority of the independents which is about 30%
    Heck, he’ll even pick up the small contingent of Reagan Dems.

    So if Brown gets 2/3 of the indies and 95% of the GOP he should handily win in November at about 53 to 55%.

  • gary b bisson

    Roll Call would be better advised to remember NH voters always confound the pollsters. Let’s wait until the vote is in in this one,

    By the way ,maybe one half of Southern NH residents are from carpetbagger families from Mass who resent that appellation. They are independent voters who move because of cheep housing and booze and not State taxes.

  • Stuff Junn

    If the oaks of liberty are to survive, then the morals, customs, and traditions that form their roots must be instilled within each of us through imitation, experience, and study.

  • Nathan Jessup

    The notion that equality somehow depends upon the unequal treatment of unique individuals is one of the main intellectual frauds perpetrated by the quacks and charlatans who preach from collectivism’s altar.

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