Republican U.S. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts and presumed challenger Elizabeth Warren are locked in a virtual tie in a race analysts say offers Democrats one of their best chances of picking up a Senate seat in November’s election.
A Suffolk University/WHDH-TV survey of likely general election voters released last night shows Brown with 48 percent support and Warren with 47 percent. The pollsters in a statement termed the race a ”dead heat,” given the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. A comparable February poll showed Brown ahead by 9 points, 49 percent to 40 percent.
“In both the February and May polls, Brown has fallen short of the coveted 50 percent mark for an incumbent, while Elizabeth Warren has converted some undecided voters since February,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “This leaves both campaigns no choice but to spend tens of millions of dollars in an all-out war to woo the 5 percent of voters who will decide this election.”
Brown, winner of a special election in January 2010 for the seat Democrat Edward Kennedy had held before his death in August 2009, is seeking a full six-year term.
Warren, a Harvard University law professor, served as an adviser to President Barack Obama and helped set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. Republican senators made clear they would block Warren’s appointment to head the bureau, and Obama named someone else to the post. In her campaign, Warren has stressed her commitment to consumer protections.
Independent political analysts Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, both based in Washington, rate Brown, 52, as one of two most vulnerable Republican senators on the ballot this year, with Dean Heller of Nevada the other. Democrats, who control the 100-member Senate with 53 votes, are defending 23 seats to 10 for the Republicans this year.
Brown has a 58 percent favorable rating in the Suffolk poll -- up from 52 percent in February -- while his unfavorable rating remained at 28 percent.
Warren is viewed favorably by 43 percent, up from 35 percent in February. Her unfavorable rating grew to 33 percent, from 28 percent in February.
Warren, 62, has faced recent questions about her background after reports that she claimed Native American heritage in directories of law professors. She said family members told her that she had Native American blood.
One issue is whether she received an advantage in landing her professorship at Harvard and other schools by claiming to be a minority. The Associated Press reported that officials of the schools that hired her said her ancestry either didn’t come up or wasn’t considered.
In the poll, 49 percent said they believe Warren is telling the truth about having Native American blood, while 28 percent said she isn’t. Asked whether they viewed the flap as a significant story, 69 percent said they didn’t while 27 percent said they did.
“Brown will have to make the case for why he deserves to be re-elected, rather than suggesting that Warren is not fit to be the U.S. senator,” Paleologos said. “And a winning strategy for Warren would be twofold. She should expand the middle-class theme across the Massachusetts political landscape, and she should court undecided voters, who in two polls have shown reluctance to pull the trigger for Scott Brown.”
Warren faces token opposition in the Sept. 6 primary that will officially decide the Democratic Senate nomination.
Brown’s campaign entered April with almost $15 million in the bank, while Warren’s had $11 million.
Employees in the securities and investment industry and their families have been the biggest source of donations to Brown, giving him $2 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that analyzes campaign donations.
In the poll, those surveyed disagreed with claims that a vote for Brown was a vote for Wall Street, 55 percent to 33 percent.
The survey also found Obama leading presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, 59 percent to 34 percent. No Republican candidate for the White House has carried Massachusetts since then-President Ronald Reagan in his 1984 re-election win.
The poll of 600 likely voters was conducted May 20-22.