A new Public Policy Polling survey — the group’s final poll before Tuesday’s special election in Massachusetts — gives Scott Brown a 5-point lead over Martha Coakley. While we’ve had a lot of polls that have been all over the place depending on the assumptions the pollsters make about the composition of the electorate, the new PPP poll is helpful because we can compare it to a poll taken by the same firm a week ago and detect a trend. In the poll taken by PPP last week, Brown was up 1 point. At the time, that was seen as a wake up call to Democrats that was supposed to get them to start taking the race seriously. So in the intervening week, Coakley and Democrats opened up new lines of attack, tying Brown to outside conservative groups, attack him for being in bed with Wall Street, and clumsily suggesting he wants hospitals to deny care to all rape victims. Despite this, Brown’s momentum has continued to grow — he even now receiving 20 percent support from people who voted for Obama. And while his negatives went up during the week, his favorability rating held steady at 56 percent (vs. 57 percent a week ago) while Coakley’s favorables dropped from 50 percent to 44 percent after a series of gaffes.
Yet through all of the growing enthusiasm behind Brown, I’m still reminded of the New Hampshire primary in 2008. Barack Obama swept into the state fresh from his victory in Iowa with all of the momentum. He was drawing larger and more energetic crowds. And polls showed that he had erased Hillary Clinton’s lead in the state and was poised for a comfortable win — maybe even in the double digits. I vividly remember showing up at the gym at Southern New Hampshire University outside of Manchester, where Clinton’s election night event was being held, and it had the feel of a funeral because even her supporters expected her to lose. And yet Clinton pulled off the victory. In the end, it turned out that Obama had too much of a gap to make up in New Hampshire. The Clinton machine was really good at turning out the vote. And the polls hadn’t reflected the late-breaking news of Clinton’s tear filled episode at a diner the day before the primary, which helped boost her numbers among women.
Brown isn’t as well-positioned in the polls as Obama was in New Hampshire going into primary day, and most pollsters view the Massachusetts Senate race as a toss up. But the momentum for Brown, the enthusiasm of his supporters, the collapse of Coakley, have all contributed to the perception that this is now Brown’s race (he’s up to 63.9% on Intrade).Yet we haven’t seen any polls that have reflected President Obama’s visit yesterday, and just like Clinton, Coakley will have the machine behind her (actually, she’ll have Clinton’s machine). So, Brown still may very well win the race, it honestly could go either way. But however inept Coakley is as a candidate, however much energy Brown’s campaign seems to have, I keep reminding myself that as a Republican running in Massachusetts, he needs everything to break right, and I keep thinking back to New Hampshire.
UPDATE: A lot of commenters are noting the many differences between the two races, and none of that escaped me when I wrote this post. But I was making a much narrower argument than what seemed to come across. My point isn’t that because Clinton beat Obama in New Hampshire in a Democratic primary two years ago, it means that Coakley will beat Brown in a Massachusetts special Senate election tomorrow. All I’m saying is that in New Hampshire, pollsters and those of us on the ground saw grassroots energy and enthusiasm catapulting Obama to victory, but in the end it turned out that Clinton pulled it off, in no small part due to a powerful established political machine. Over the past week, I’ve posted a number of polls — as well as anecdotal evidence — showing the race moving in Brown’s direction, but I’ve also tried to balance this with what I think is a health skepticism, especially given that we’re talking about such a heavily Democratic state.
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