BOSTON — A new WBUR poll shows U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren running neck and neck. Forty-six percent of people polled said they would vote for Warren compared to 43 percent for Brown. The three-point lead is within the margin of error.
Political newcomer Warren surprised the establishment when she raised millions of dollars in both of the last two quarters. She’s used that money to buy TV ads, and based on conversations with voters, the ads seem to be working.
“I just feel more comfortable with her because I know she’s going to fight for what I want,” said
Belmont Democrat Lucille Duddy. Duddy knows everything she does about Warren from watching those television spots.
Pollster Steve Koczela said of Warren, “She’s gotten her name out there. Now many more people have a view of her and she’s translated that into higher support than she had before.”
Koczela leads the polling group at the independent think-tank MassINC. He conducted the poll for WBUR.
“[Warren] really came out of the gate fast and there was some question as to whether or not she was going to be able to maintain the momentum that she started out with,” he said. “And what this poll has shown is that she has been able to maintain that momentum.”
However, about a third of voters polled don’t know who she is or don’t have an opinion of her. And Brown is popular. Fifty percent of the voters polled think favorably of him, compared to 39 percent* who say the same about Warren.
At a time when the middle class feels under siege, much of this Senate race has been about who is more “middle class.” And, according to Koczela, Brown is winning that competition.
“He has managed to put a little bit of daylight between himself and his opponent as far who is actually from the middle class,” Koczela said.
Soheil Husain, a 35-year-old surgeon from Andover, said he considers Brown to be the middle-class candidate in the race. Husain is an independent who votes for Democrats more often than Republicans, but is leaning toward voting for Brown. Like many of the people we polled — 28 percent of them — Husain said Brown has the middle-class roots.
“But to be honest, I don’t know that for sure,” Husain said. “I don’t know exactly what his parents’ incomes were. His whole persona, driving around in a truck, helps that image.”
Brown has spoken widely and written a memoir about his struggles growing up the son of a single mom. He got government-subsidized lunch at school. He said he studied at Tufts University on a basketball scholarship.
In the meantime, Warren describes her family during her childhood “hanging onto the middle class by its fingernails.” In her stump speeches and on television, she said her mother had to work after Warren’s father had a heart attack and got demoted to a lesser-paying job. She said she went to college on a debate scholarship. But only 17 percent of voters we polled said Warren came from a middle-class home.
Another 27 percent of the voters said both candidates did.
Voters’ perceptions of the candidates are complicated by the fact that both of them have done well for themselves financially as adults. Warren’s Cambridge house is worth between $1 and $5 million, and she earned more than $500,000 in 2010. Brown owns a Wrentham home and three rental properties worth between $1 million and $2.3 million. He got a $700,000 advance on his autobiography.
“I think it’s probably less important to me where they are now,” Husain said. “If they made a fortune, good for them, but it would be beneficial if at some time they lived without having that fortune. Just so they knew how the other side lived.”
When we asked voters who would better represent the needs of regular people, Brown led Warren 33 to 30 percent. Twenty-five percent said they would do the job equally well.
“I think they both are a lot like me,” said Sherry Loiselle, a 50-year-old secretary in Chelmsford.
Loiselle is an independent and plans to vote for Brown, but is interested in Warren’s ideas.
The fact that Brown is a Republican, in an otherwise completely Democratic congressional delegation, appears to help him, especially among independents. Fifty-three percent of independents polled say it would be a negative development if the delegation became completely Democratic.
Another issue that might affect this race is health care. On Wednesday, we’ll report on whether Massachusetts voters want their U.S. senator to support or repeal President Obama’s health care law.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Warren’s favorability rating was 41 percent. Her favorability rating was polled at 39 percent.