There's a formula that works when you are a Republican senator running for re-election in a Democratic-leaning state, and Massachusetts' Scott Brown has it down.
Be personally popular, tout your love of your state, and show your independence by breaking with your more conservative colleagues on some high profile votes—think financial reform and public funding for Planned Parenthood—and promote the bill signings you've attended at the White House with President Barack Obama.
And when an opponent tries to link you to controversial comments by another member of your party—think Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin speaking earlier this week about rape and abortion—you denounce them quickly.
That's the script Brown has stuck to so far in the deep blue Bay State and he's been rewarded with a narrow lead over Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren, 49 percent to 44 percent in the latest survey by Public Policy Polling. Brown's buoyed by high personal popularity and a commanding lead with independent voters, 58 percent to 32 percent. Even 20 percent of Democrats say they prefer him to Warren.
The wonky Harvard professor has overcome early hiccups in her campaign, such as questions about the veracity of her Native American heritage and campaign trail stiffness, and is one of the most prolific fundraisers in the country. That's part of why the race has remained one of the country's most contested.
But as one Washington, D.C.-based Republican strategist says, Warren has just failed to "break through" with voters. Democrats are hoping the Akin ruckus that has brought the abortion issue into the spotlight will represent an opening for Warren.
"In Massachusetts, the national conversation has made clear Republican Scott Brown has a serious problem: women here can't count on him to protect their rights," says Julie Edwards, a Warren spokeswoman. "Scott Brown voted against equal pay for equal work. Scott Brown co-sponsored an amendment to limit access to birth control. And he's endorsed the Republican ticket of Romney-Ryan and is working to help Republicans gain control of the Senate."
Brown is pro-choice and was one of the first Republicans to call on Akin to step aside following his inflammatory remarks about "legitimate rape." He also sent a letter to the Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus pushing for the GOP party platform to include exceptions for rape and incest in the pro-life plank.
"As Scott Brown's wife of 26 years, I can't think of anybody who is more supportive of women, who cares more deeply about women, and their health needs, their psychological needs, their work needs," said Gail Huff, in a recent local interview. "This is a man who is very, very supportive and very strong on all women's issues."
Massachusetts Democrats say that's not enough to put voters' minds at ease.
"The women of Massachusetts can't count on Scott Brown," said Clare Kelly, executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. "He's given thousands in campaign cash to fellow Republicans who backed the forcible rape bill and have been endorsed by anti-choice groups and extreme elements of the Republican Party."
A national Democratic strategist says this is the key problem Brown faces, that ultimately a vote for Brown is a vote for the "Romney-Ryan agenda and a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate."
Colin Reed, a Brown spokesman, has a simple response to those attacks.
"Someone ought to remind Professor Warren she's running against Scott Brown, not Mitt Romney," he says.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.
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