Sunday September 9, 2012

New York Times

CAMBRIDGE -- President Barack Obama is appearing in yet another television commercial in the Massachusetts Senate race. This time, it was not produced by the Demo cratic candidate, Elizabeth Warren, but by the Republican, Sen. Scott P. Brown.

The advertisement, which was scheduled to start running Saturday, shows Obama praising Brown for sponsoring a bill to end insider trading in Congress. As Obama signs the measure into law, he thanks Brown, saying, "Good job."

With the political conventions over and the Labor Day parades behind them, Brown and Warren are entering a new phase of their intensely fought race, the most expensive Senate contest in the country and one of a handful that will determine which party controls the chamber next year. The race is distinctive in another way: In this state, Obama is so popular that candidates from both parties are trying to hitch their wagons to his star.

That approach would be unusual enough for a Demo crat in a year in which many feel the need to distance themselves from the administration, but it is virtually un fathomable for a Republican. That both candidates are trying to leverage their ties to Obama underscores how popular the president is here and how unpopular his rival, Mitt Romney, is, even though he once served as the state’s governor. Obama is expected to carry Massachu setts overwhelmingly in November.

Brown’s new ad is a clear overture to independent voters, who make up more than 52 percent of the state’s electorate.


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It seeks to reassure them that splitting their ticket -- voting for a Democrat for president and a Republican for the Senate -- can still mean that things will get done in Washington.

The commercial follows weeks of other ads in which various former Democratic officeholders have endorsed Brown; on Friday, his campaign rolled out a "Democrats for Brown" coalition that includes a state representative, Christopher G. Fallon of Malden, and other officials.

The strategy may be paying off. Over the last few weeks, Brown appears to have been inching ahead of Warren in the polls, though the race still seems to be within the statistical margin of error. Signifi cantly, he has been building a strong lead over Warren among independents. Polls suggested that he was attracting as many as one in five Democrats and one in four Obama voters, most of whom are independents.

"The race is going to be won or lost among the independents," said David Paleologos, a pollster at Suffolk University in Boston. "The onus is on the Warren campaign to define and clarify what having a Republican Senate means and to force people to vote straight Democratic."

Warren was able to cloak herself in the Obama glory last week with a prime-time speaking role at the Democratic National Convention in Char lotte, N.C. (Brown, by contrast, opted out of a speaking role the previous week at the Republican National Con vention in Tampa, Fla.)

Obama makes regular cam eos in Warren’s television ads, usually with the two of them in the Rose Garden. And on Thursday night, after officially becoming the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat, Warren noted in a statement that her name would appear on the November ballot "just below President Barack Oba ma’s," a reminder of how easy it would be to vote a straight ticket.

But Warren’s anti-corporate, anti-Wall Street message seems aimed squarely at the party’s progressive wing, which is more enthusiastic about her than it is about Obama. Her strategy so far seems to be to fire up that base and hope the moderates and independents come along.

Warren, who teaches at Harvard Law School, said Thursday that she would not adjust her message to try to appeal more to independents or to any particular group, adding that she was simply giving voice to the concerns that voters have raised with her.

"I’m not a politician, and the idea that I could calibrate something is just kind of beyond my reach," she told reporters outside her polling place here, where she and her husband, Bruce Mann, had come to vote in the state’s primary.

She was running uncontested, having crushed her potential rival at a state party convention this year with the help of Gov. Deval Patrick’s political machine. It was her first time on a ballot, never even having run in school for class officer.