There are few races with as much personal intrigue this year as the campaign for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire. But Republican Scott Brown and his allies want to make the next seven months about policy more than anything else -- as in a single policy: Obamacare.
Brown will embark Friday on what his campaign has dubbed the "Obamacare Isn’t Working" tour a day after he officially launched his campaign with an address emphasizing his opposition to the law and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's support for it.
Brown called Shaheen "the deciding vote" for Obamacare. His most memorable line of the night was a dig at the law. "Obamacare forces us to make a choice, live free or log on -- and here in New Hampshire, we choose freedom," Brown said in a play on the Granite State's official motto.
The way Brown, a former Massachusetts senator, wants to frame the race is consistent with the way conservative groups have approached it for months. From Ending Spending Inc.'s "Lie of the Year" ad last December to Americans for Prosperity following suit with their own ad campaign, it's clear that Republicans believe their path to victory lies heavily in how well they can use Obamacare to hurt Shaheen's image.
They've already begun setting the stage for a contrast. The super PAC Ending Spending Action Fund hit the airwaves this week with a positive ad -- rare for an outside group -- praising Brown's opposition to the law.
Shaheen clearly understands the perils of getting caught flat-footed, especially in a state where the law's namesake is unpopular right now. She spearheaded a push in the Senate last fall to extend the open enrollment period for the newly installed health-care exchanges. The Democrat embodies the keep-it-but-fix-it posture her party has adopted this year: underscore the popular elements of the law while vowing to tweak the stuff most people don't like.
Brown's sudden entrance into the campaign comes with great personal fanfare. He openly flirted with the possibility of running for months, popping up in the Granite State regularly before eventually selling his Massachusetts home and moving to his New Hampshire vacation home. Since launching an exploratory committee last month, Brown has tried to parlay the every-man appeal and off-the-cuff conversational style that made him a hit in a 2010 special election into success in a neighboring state.
But Shaheen can also lean on her personal appeal and status as a known quantity. She was governor before she was senator, and a recent Suffolk University poll showed that more than half of the state's likeliest voters (53 percent) held a favorable impression of her. Out of 15 other names tested, only Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) had a higher favorable rating. A more recent WMUR Granite State survey pegged her approval rating at 49 percent, with 35 percent holding an unfavorable view.
Thus, the battle of personal likability could end up being a wash. This is why Obamacare -- and how it's perceived in the run-up to November -- is so important for Brown, who begins the campaign as an underdog. The new WMUR poll showed Shaheen leading Brown 45 percent to 39 percent.
Democrats, meanwhile, will try to parry by criticizing Brown's record on other fronts.
"We’ve learned a few things about Scott in the little bit of time he’s been here. Most notably, that he is not for New Hampshire. He’s for Scott Brown. And he’s for advancing the interests of his out-of-state corporate special interest backers that pay for his campaigns," said former state Democratic Party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan.
Brown has the national wind at his back right now. But that doesn't necessarily mean his Obamacare offensive will work. When Suffolk asked respondents the first word or phrase that came to mind when they heard Shaheen's name, health-care/Obamacare in a negative context came up less than 1 percent of the time.
It's clear that beginning today, Brown wants that number to increase as much as possible.
"Sebelius will step down as HHS secretary" -- Juliet Eilperin and Amy Goldstein, Washington Post
"Paul Ryan looks to the future" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post