2012 Notes: Scott Brown's Strong Approval Numbers

Posted: Mar 14, 2011 7:52 PM
In my column on the home page today, I outline a very plausible -- if not likely -- route Republicans may trace to a Senate majority in the 2012 elections.  The formula is relatively simple:  The GOP must pick off at least four of the 23 Democrat-controlled seats that are up next cycle, while retaining all 10 of their own.  If you read the piece, you'll discover this scenario is hardly far-fetched, at least as things currently stand.

A few new polls out today buttress the case I advance in the story:

In Missouri (which I describe as a 'second tier' pickup opportunity for the GOP), Claire McCaskill is so far plateauing at 46 percent in hypothetical re-election matchups.  Democratic pollster PPP shows McCaskill in a virtual tie with three possible Republican challengers -- none of whom are well known to voters.  McCaskill also fails to attract crossover votes from Republicans, which was a key to her 2006 victory.  The Left-leaning blog Talking Points Memo describes the poll as an indication that McCaskill is "vulnerable for defeat" next year.
In Massachusetts, Democrats must be sweating about their chances of unseating Sen. Scott Brown.  Given the 2012 Senate landscape, Democrats will encounter precious few opportunities for pickups.  Massachusetts is regarded as their best chance to do so -- at least on paper.  But Brown's numbers in deep blue Massachusetts are remarkably solid:

According to the poll, 52 percent said Brown deserved to be re-elected in November 2012, while 28 percent said he did not. The rest had no opinion or did not answer.

Brown's favorability rating was 53 percent, with a 27 percent unfavorable rating. And the Republican's job approval rating was 57 percent -- on par with Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry and slightly above that of Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.

Brown's job approval rating among registered Republicans was 88 percent, and he also was also viewed favorably by 64 percent of independents -- the voting bloc which propelled him to his upset victory over Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election.  Forty-two percent of registered Democrats approved of the job Brown was doing.

Some conservatives will object that Brown's numbers are only that strong because he's voted as a squishy 'RINO,' rather than a strong conservative.  To be fair, Brown ran as a national security conservative and Obamacare critic.  He has maintained an admirable degree of fidelity to both positions.  Last month, he voted in favor of repealing Obamacare, along with every Senate Republican.  Last week, he co-sponsored legislation addressing US policy on terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay:

Just days after President Barack Obama's decision to resume military trials for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, five GOP lawmakers and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., proposed legislation that would keep open the military prison by barring money for any alternative, impose restrictions on transferring detainees to foreign countries and push for military commissions, not civilian courts, to decide the fate of detainees.

Can conservatives envision, say, Ted Kennedy or Martha Coakley taking either of these actions in the United States Senate?  Brown has not been a down-the-line conservative, to be sure.  He has, however, represented a very liberal state with center-right sensibilities -- maintaining near universal backing from Republicans, while appealing to independents and Democrats.  Without significant backing from those latter two demographics, one simply does not win statewide in the Bay State.

One final 2012 Senate-related note:  Rumors were flying today that DNC Chairman Tim Kaine told a group of college students that he would indeed seek the Democratic nomination for Senate in Virginia next year.  The DNC later walked back those comments, "clarifying" that Kaine has not yet made a final decision:

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine is "increasingly likely" to run for the open U.S. Senate seat in Virginia, but he has not yet made a final decision, a committee spokesman said Monday.

UPDATE (3/15):  Nevada Congressman Dean Heller has officially jumped into the Nevada Senate race, immediately vaulting to frontrunner status.  The seat will be open next year, due to Sen. John Ensign's recently announced retirement.