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After Poll, Brown's Re-Election Position Debated03:04
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It almost sounds like 2010 — a no-nonsense female lawyer running against a popular Republican for a Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat. Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren hasn’t even officially said she’s a candidate, yet she appears to be gaining traction with voters.

A new WBUR poll, done by MassINC, puts Warren ahead of three other Democrats in a race against incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown. The poll asked 500 likely Massachusetts voters about hypothetical contests between Brown and four Democrats. Warren came in the strongest of the four with 35 percent support, just nine points behind Brown.

PDF: Click for the full WBUR/MassINC poll results.
PDF: Click for the full WBUR/MassINC poll results.

Analysts' reaction to the poll Tuesday was mixed. Tufts University political science professor Jeff Berry says this election won't be just a contest against Brown.

"The Democrats are going to nationalize this election and they're not going to focus so much on Scott Brown, who your poll shows is quite likeable," Berry said. "But [they'll] rather ask the voters this question: 'Do you want to help the Republicans take over the Senate too and give the Tea Party the right to run the government?' So they're going to run against the Tea Party, more than than they're going to run against Brown."

But Massachusetts Democratic Party spokesman Kevin Frank says polling trends suggest that Brown's support may be dipping and the senator will be the focus of the next campaign.

"All elections with an incumbent running are referenda on whether that incumbent should keep his job and Scott Brown's voting record is clearly catching up with him," Frank said.

The WBUR poll shows that Brown is well-known and popular — his 54 percent favorability rating was the highest of all five candidates. Brown also was much better known than Warren or the three other Democrats: City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, activist Bob Massie and Newton Mayor Setti Warren. Only 5 percent of those surveyed said they had never heard of Brown; 44 percent had never heard of Elizabeth Warren. And she had the best name recognition of the four Democrats.

Boston University Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and political science professor Virginia Sapiro says it’s still early, but recognition is going to be tough for Elizabeth Warren or anyone running against Brown.

"It's a good sign for him that people recognize him and they don't recognize her,” Sapiro said. “So that's what it means more, is that people don't know much yet, they're not paying attention yet. They're voting partisanship. Or they've heard of Scott Brown so they'll support him."

And that's what Massachusetts Republicans are counting on. The state Republican Party says this poll shows that Brown, who grabbed the national spotlight when he took the seat long held by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, is an even stronger candidate now than he was in 2010.

This program aired on September 6, 2011.

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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