DURHAM, N.H. — “Scotty! Scotty!” chanted the ecstatic young crowd as Scott Brown arrived at the University of New Hampshire Wildcats’ homecoming game. “Scott Brown! Scott Brown!” “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
“Mom, I’m here with Scott Brown. Yes, Scott Brown!” a student yelled into her phone inside the Brown pop-up tent. One student holding a can of beer even screamed, “Scott Brown for president!”
The Republican candidate for the Senate was treated like a rock star by the students jiggling on pickup trucks to dance music, chugging beers and cooking barbecue. The crowds surged toward Brown for selfie after selfie, hurling epithets at his opponent, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Brown found himself turning down dozens of offers of beer and burgers; one student even offered him drugs.
In one sense, campaigning with rowdy college students is vintage Brown, who continues to play up the image of the regular, pickup-truck-driving guy that he drove to victory in Massachusetts in the 2010 Senate race. But the tricky optics of videos showing him in a sea of profanity-spewing, drunken college kids also reveal a Brown who is willing to try just about anything to gain some traction in a race he is still losing.
Brown has knocked on hundreds of New Hampshire doors, run in local footraces and marched in dozens of parades. In an effort to gain attention on issues, Brown has linked Ebola to border security, said that the world is “on fire,” said that only Republicans will make America “safer” and raised the Islamic State as a campaign issue. On Wednesday, he will be campaigning with Republican former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, hoping that his resurgent popularity might rub off a little on Team Brown.
Brown’s visit to the UNH pregame party over the weekend came 24 days before Election Day, and though he is popular on the trail, he still has not found the right formula for winning over a majority of New Hampshire voters.
According to the latest polling from UNH, Brown is six points behind Shaheen. In September, polling suggested that the incumbent had a double-digit lead. Brown has managed to chip away at it some with his take-it-to-the-streets campaigning, but Shaheen has consistently remained ahead.
The polling also shows that Shaheen has a much more positive image among New Hampshire voters — 50 percent have a positive view of her, compared with 29 percent for Brown. Among their parties, Shaheen has the support of 87 percent of Democrats while Brown has 76 percent of Republicans.
The campaign was always going to be an uphill struggle for Brown. After losing his Senate seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in 2012, the successor to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy sold his house in Wrentham, Mass. He announced in April that he would run for a Senate seat in neighboring New Hampshire.
Was joining the UNH tailgate parties another way to show the difference between him and the more reserved Shaheen?
“It’s not an approach. This is who I am,” he said. “We’ve had the same approach — that is taking our message to the people of New Hampshire, in the same way, right from the beginning.”
Brown said he had come to “just enjoy the game” and mingle with ordinary folks.“This is where the people are,” he said. “This is an election where you have an opportunity to tell people your positions and thoughts on things, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Despite being consistently outpolled by his opponent, Brown remains bullish about his chances in November.
“There are 24 days left,” he said. “We’re going to continue to bring our message to the voters and talk about how [Shaheen] is a rubber stamp for the president and his failed policies and how I can be that independent voter for people.”
He added: “It’s not over till it’s over. I’m going to fight until 8, 9 o’clock that night, and then we’ll figure out who is that winner.”
Less than an hour down the road in Concord, Shaheen hosted a tamer campaign event. Over pancakes with New Hampshire maple syrup, Shaheen was joined by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local, where she lambasted Brown’s connections to big business.
“When he was in Washington, he supported big corporate special interests,” she said. “He was there to support $19 billion in giveaways to the big banks. He was there to support $20 billion in subsidies to the oil companies. But when it came to supporting small businesses here in New Hampshire, when it came to supporting tax cuts for middle-class families, he wasn’t there unless he got the cuts for the millionaires and the billionaires.”
As well as highlighting Brown’s record in Massachusetts, Shaheen is anxious to contrast herself, and her years holding public office in New Hampshire, with the new boy in town — she served in the New Hampshire state Senate for four years before becoming the state’s 78th governor and has served on Capitol Hill since 2009.
“People know me, and they know what I’ve done and what I stand for,” she said. “Scott Brown has not even lived in New Hampshire for a year. He doesn’t know people in this state.”
She added: “When he says he cares about New Hampshire, I think people don’t know what that means, because they don’t know who he is. I have been here working hard for the people in New Hampshire for my entire adult life.”
Shaheen hones in on Brown’s links to Wall Street and makes a point to link him to the Koch brothers and Karl Rove. Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and other wealthy donors, and American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by Rove, have both spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on political ads against Shaheen. But the Democrat has received big outside money as well. This month, the Mark Zuckerberg-affiliated FWD.us, an immigration advocacy group, donated $1 million to her campaign.
Despite her lead, Shaheen is not taking the election for granted. “I think this is a very close race,” she said. “We’re working very hard, and we’re going to continue to do that from now until Election Day.”
Corrections: An earlier version of this story said that Saturday was 23 days before Election Day. It was 24. It also described Concord as about 10 miles from Durham. Concord is about 35 miles away. This version has been corrected.