Salon exclusive: Secret Democratic poll finds shocking popularity for Scott Brown
Massachusetts is a deeply Democratic state, one in which barely more than 15 percent of the seats in the state Legislature are held by Republicans and fewer than 15 percent of all registered voters belong to the GOP. So it’s hardly surprising that national Democrats have been making noise about defeating the state’s Republican senator, Scott Brown, when he stands for reelection next year.
“It’s a priority for us,” Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told the Boston Globe when he made a two-day trip to the Bay State earlier this month.
But the DSCC received some bad news this week when a poll it commissioned found that Brown’s popularity is soaring. The survey, which has been seen by at least one D.C. insider and was detailed for Salon, measured Brown’s approval rating at 73 percent — easily surpassing the scores for Barack Obama and the state’s two top Democrats, Gov. Deval Patrick and Sen. John Kerry. It also found him running over the magic 50 percent mark against every potential Democratic challenger, and crushing the strongest perceived Democrats (Reps. Michael Capuano and Ed Markey and former Rep. Marty Meehan) by double-digit margins. The results only grew closer when respondents were primed with negative information about Brown.
The findings underscore the success that Brown has had in separating himself from the national Republican Party brand, which remains poisonous in Massachusetts. (Even in the strongly anti-Democratic tide of 2010 — the best climate for Republicans in Massachusetts since 1994 — the GOP failed to win any of the state’s six constitutional offices or 10 House seats and actually lost ground in the Legislature.) Brown has largely been a steady GOP vote in the Senate, but he has broken with his party in several high-profile instances: a jobs bill last February, Wall Street reform over the summer, and ratification of the new START treaty and repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in December. He also made news last week for (sort of) opposing the GOP’s effort to defund Planned Parenthood.
All of this has helped Brown craft an image as an independent senator. That some leaders of the Tea Party — which poured itself into Brown’s victorious January 2010 special election effort — are now openly criticizing him and calling for a GOP primary challenge next year only reinforces this image. Brown’s personal appeal — the whole working stiff with a truck thing — remains a clear asset too.
This is why in a recent Op-Ed for the Boston Globe I likened Brown to William Weld — the Republican who won Massachusetts’ governorship in something of a fluke in 1990, only to build enormous popularity by picking some high-profile fights with his own national party. When he sought reelection in 1994, every big-name Democrat in the state who’d been talked up as a prospect — Paul Tsongas, Joe Kennedy, Ray Flynn, John Silber and on and on — passed. Weld ended up posting a record-shattering 42-point landslide over a hapless state representative.
The endurance of Brown’s popularity is likely to give pause to his strongest potential Democratic foes. Capuano and Markey (and South Boston’s Stephen Lynch, for that matter) would have to give up safe House seats to challenge him next year. Meehan would have to surrender his cozy perch in academia. Running against Brown might not be worth the risk for them — especially with at least one (the 2014 governor’s race, which should be an open seat) and possibly two (John Kerry’s Senate seat, which could open up for a 2013 special election if he is elevated to secretary of state for a second Obama term) other opportunities on the horizon. True, 2012 will be a presidential election year, which will theoretically boost Brown’s challenger in blue state Massachusetts. But it’s easy to overstate the coattail effect, as Susan Collins demonstrated in 2008, when she easily beat a strong Democratic challenger even as Barack Obama comfortably won Maine. In other words, unless Brown’s numbers dip markedly, it’s likely that Democrats will be stuck with a second-tier (at best) challenger in ’12.
The national implications are potentially significant. Democrats are clinging to a 53-47 edge in the Senate now, but they are defending nearly three-quarters of the seats that will be up next year — some of them in very red states. Already, North Dakota — where Democrat Kent Conrad is retiring — is regarded as a near-certain GOP pickup, and the Democrats’ hold on seats in Nebraska, Montana, Missouri, Virginia and West Virginia is shaky at best.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts might be the only logical pickup target for Democrats — especially now that embattled Republican Sen. John Ensign has finally ruled out a reelection campaign in Nevada. Maybe Indiana could emerge as a target, if Richard Lugar is derailed by Tea Party activists in next year’s GOP primary — and if his GOP foe, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, proves to be a particularly polarizing nominee. Theoretically, Maine could too, with Republican Olympia Snowe sure to face at least one Tea Party-backed challenger next year (although Snowe would likely be unbeatable if she decides to run as an independent).
Thus, ousting Brown would significantly increase Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate. But failing to do so could be the final nail in their majority’s coffin.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Guantánamo prisoner on hunger strike cries for help on Twitter
- 3 possible solutions to international tax avoidance
- “I just want the U.S. to send my father home”
- Army weapons engineer tied to white nationalist organizations
- Ted Cruz against the world
- David Vitter's hypocritical, punitive, horrible new amendment
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- Could hackers destroy the U.S. power grid?
- Democrats may be even worse than Republicans at regulating Wall Street
- Eric Holder versus journalism
- A progressive defense of drones
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
- Murkowski: Palin too disengaged to run for Senate
- In IRS scandal, new GOP tactic is ignorance
- Code Pink activist berates Obama at national security speech
- Cuomo: "Shame on us" if New York City elects Weiner
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11