CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — If there's one person in New Hampshire less popular than President Barack Obama, it's Republican Scott Brown. But that might not matter as the former Massachusetts senator tries to unseat Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in his new home state.
Brown, who moved to New Hampshire late last year, hopes to sink Shaheen by linking her to Obama, whose favorability and job approval remain at all-time lows. And while Brown's favorability numbers are just as dismal — one poll shows voters liking him less the more they get to know him — he's running neck-and-neck with the considerably more popular Shaheen.
"It's really not a matter of either candidate's popularity. It's a matter of President Obama's popularity," said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. People don't pay much attention to the particulars of midterm election politics, he added.
"Their sense of politics is what's going on with the president," he said. "They like what the president's doing or they don't like what the president's doing."
This is Brown's third U.S. Senate campaign in five years. His 2010 win to replace the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy in Massachusetts vaulted Brown to the top of the GOP's list of rising stars, but he was soundly defeated by Democrat Elizabeth Warren in 2012. Last year, he moved to New Hampshire, where he had a vacation home and had lived as a toddler. Now he's seeking to become only the third U.S. senator to serve multiple states.
Shaheen, a Missouri native, has lived in New Hampshire for four decades. She served as a state senator before becoming the first woman elected governor of New Hampshire and the first woman anywhere to serve as both governor and U.S. senator. She has tagged Brown as an opportunistic carpetbagger — "New Hampshire is not a consolation prize" — and argues that women in particular can't trust him on issues such as equal pay and reproductive rights.
But Brown has been relentless in portraying Shaheen as a rubber stamp for the Obama administration, particularly on the health care overhaul law and foreign policy. He's tweaked New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" motto to say the health law forces people to "Live Free or Log On," and more recently, has focused more on the "die" part — tying fears over the Ebola virus and the Islamic State group to the need for greater U.S. border security.
All told, more than $36 million has been spent on the race, including $24 million by outside groups trying to shape the outcome as Republicans nationally try to gain the six seats needed to retake control of the U.S. Senate. Through the start of last week, New Hampshire voters had seen $10 million in advertising, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity's analysis. Spending was roughly evenly split between parties for at least 15,000 ads.
Erin Henson, a 27-year-old independent voter from Manchester, said she ignores the attack ads from both sides, but did take note of a positive ad in which Shaheen touts her support for small businesses.
"Her ads show her walking around Main Street, America — that means nothing to me," said Henson, a retirement specialist at Fidelity Investments. "I don't think small businesses are going to be the wave of the future for people of my generation. I think she's a little too focused on the little guy, and I'm not the little guy."
Henson met Brown last week when he visited Fidelity for a "meet the candidate" event and said she was won over after he said he wanted to loosen regulations on big companies so they could spend more money on hiring instead of on lawyers.
"I think he's very personable, reasonable man," she said. "I think he would represent a state like New Hampshire very well."
Republicans hold a slight edge over Democrats in voter registration in New Hampshire, but more than 40 percent are independent or undeclared. Though Shaheen led Brown in early polls, the most recent batch shows them about even.
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.