Two polls out this past weekend show Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) pulling ahead of challenger Elizabeth Warren (D) in the Massachusetts Senate race.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is leading in polls. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

A Western New England Polling Institute survey taken Feb. 23 to March 1 has Brown beating Warren 49 percent to 41 percent if the election was held today.

It was the third survey in a row showing Brown in the lead. A poll done last week by the consulting firm Opinion Dynamics shows Brown winning 52 percent to 42 percent; a Suffolk University poll in mid-February gave Brown a nine-point lead.

The most recent poll was taken after Brown backed an amendment allowing moral exemptions from prescription coverage (a failed attempt to limit mandatory cost-free birth control coverage) — suggesting that in the short-term, that position has not hurt him.

Twenty-two percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents said they would back the incumbent over his challenger, a Harvard Law School professor and former Obama administration official.

Female voters approved of Brown’s job performance 50 percent to 28 percent.

Brown’s campaign manager Jim Barnett argued in a recent memo that the contraception debate has actually helped the senator. Warren, Brown’s campaign manager argued in a memo, “has shifted to become a ‘culture warrior’” while Brown “stood against this assault on religious freedom.”

Warren’s campaign downplayed the recent surveys.

“We'll let the political pundits debate the polls and watch them go up and down over the course of the campaign,” said Warren press secretary Alethea Harney. “Elizabeth will keep working her heart out.”

Boston-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said Warren still needed to make her case to independents and increase her overall visibility: “The quieter the campaign, the better advantage for him and not for her, because it’s the status quo.”

Democrats also argued that Brown’s cross-party popularity in the Western New England survey was a sign of how volatile polling was, not of danger for Warren.

The polling in this race will almost certainly tighten up again before this fall. A mid-February WBUR poll showed the two in a statistical tie.

But these surveys are a reminder to Democrats enthusiastic about Warren’s candidacy that Brown will be hard to beat, and a suggestion that the politics of birth control is more complicated than it appears at first glance.

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