Salena Zito

ATTLEBORO, Mass. – Just off I-95 heading north toward Cape Cod, a crisply dressed Fran Hanley meticulously wipes every nook and cranny of the gas pumps at the service station where he works.

Hanley, 61, clearly takes his job seriously. He pauses only briefly to explain that an exceptional work ethic is a large part of why he voted for Republican Scott Brown in January’s U.S. Senate race: “He had the right attitude when he was campaigning and, so far, he has kept his word of representing the needs of the people, not of Washington.”

Hanley considers himself an independent but consistently voted for Bay State Democrats John Kerry and the late Ted Kennedy; he even supported Kerry when he ran for president. Like many Democrat-leaning independents, he went Republican for Brown in the special election to replace Kennedy.

Hanley and Brown are perfect examples of the worst fears of the White House and Democrats in November.

The new normal in poll after poll heading into the midterm election is that Democrats face historic voter disconnect, likely hindering their ability to retain control of the House of Representatives and slimming their majority in the Senate as well.

Republicans must win 39 House seats and 10 in the Senate to hold majorities in both chambers.

Pollster Neil Newhouse of the GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies looked at his national data prior to Brown’s win and compared it with current data. “Surprisingly, there’s not much difference,” he says.

Newhouse says the data shows the country’s mood as overwhelmingly negative, then and now. The president’s job approval was inverted then, as it is today. Congress’ image was in the dumpster then, and still is today. The generic ballot was a dead heat then, as it is now.

“Remarkably, it seems as though the fundamentals of this election may have been set as far back as last December or January, and nothing has really knocked it off that track,” he said.

Up the Cape and across Nantucket Sound, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat and close friend of President Obama, held a town-hall meeting at the Unitarian Meeting House. Inside, Patrick tried to keep the meeting about local issues; outside, the Nantucket police union picketed the meeting.

Holding his sleeping son in a knapsack, summer resident Hardy Watts of Boston said he wasn’t surprised to see Patrick make a rare Nantucket appearance. “The sharp memory of Brown’s win is probably sending him a chill,” said Watts, 36, a former high school American history teacher who just finished law school. He was impressed with Brown’s campaign – and is equally impressed with Brown’s first six months in office.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.