What the heck is going on in the Massachusetts senate race?

Good question - especially since the latest polls are all over the lot.

The latest Boston Globe poll of likely voters has the Democrat Martha Coakley up by a whopping 15 points over her Republican rival Scott Brown:

Half of voters surveyed said they would pick Coakley, the attorney general, if the election were held today, compared with 35 percent who would pick Brown. Nine percent were undecided, and a third candidate in the race, independent Joseph L. Kennedy, received 5 percent.
Coakley's lead grows to 17 points - 53 percent to 36 percent - when undecideds leaning toward a candidate are included in the tally. The results indicate that Brown has a steep hill to climb to pull off an upset in the Jan. 19 election. Indeed, the poll indicated that nearly two-thirds of Brown's supporters believe Coakley will win.

Then there's this Public Policy Polling survey, also of likely voters, that shows Brown leading by one slim percentage point over Coakley:

The shocking poll from Public Policy Polling shows Republican state senator Scott Brown leading Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley by one point, 48 to 47 percent, which would mean the race is effectively tied.

Among independents, who make up 51 percent of the electorate in the Bay State, Brown leads Coakley 63 percent to 31 percent.

Just 50 percent of voters view Coakley favorably, while 42 percent viewing her unfavorably.

Brown, who began an advertising blitz this month, sports a strong 57 percent favorability rating, with just 25 percent viewing him unfavorably - very strong numbers for a Republican in the heavily Democratic state.

The PPP poll surveyed about 200 more voters which shouldn't matter that much. It would be interesting to see how both polls define "likely voters" which can sometimes skew the results.

One interesting similarity between the two polls; both show Brown has having high approval/disapproval ratings - historically high for a Republican in the Bay State. Other than that, it appears that it is possible the time period involved in when the polls were taken might be the biggest difference.

The PPP survey was taken between 1/7-9 - after the Rasmussen poll came out showing Brown narrowing the gap to 9 points. The Globe poll was taken 1/2-6 - mostly before those numbers became known.

I think it entirely possible that Brown is surging, buoyed by the growing realization that he could pull off the upset. He certainly has gotten a lot of positive press since those Rasmussen numbers have come out and for the 53% of Massachusetts voters who say they are following the election closely, that may have had an effect.

But is Brown really only a point behind? Massachusetts, like New Jersey and other heavily Democratic states, usually show a close race in the week or 10 days just prior to the election. But in the final 72 hours, a lot of Democrats start coming home and since in MA, registration for Dems outnumber Republicans by 3 to 1, that one point difference may indeed be a mirage.

There are several things going for Brown that might upset the conventional wisdom this time around - not the least of which is a powerful anti-health care reform sentiment as well as an enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans.

But make no mistake - it is still an uphill battle for Brown. In this most Democratic of states, a Republican needs to be over 50% in the polls on election day to have a chance. And in neither of these new polls is Brown reached that milestone.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky

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