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

by Stuart Rothenberg July 23, 2014 · 12:11 PM EDT

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 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.