- A new CNN/ORC poll shows a statistical dead heat
- Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is keeping it local in her campaign issues
- GOP opponent Scott Brown tries to tie Shaheen to Obama
- The President has only a 39% approval rating in New Hampshire
A new CNN/ORC poll shows a statistical dead heat between New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and her GOP opponent Scott Brown, with Shaheen at 49%, Brown at 47%, and a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4%.
Perhaps even more telling is another politician's approval rating, and he's not even in the Granite State.
President Barack Obama has only a 39% approval rating in New Hampshire, the new poll shows. Fifty-seven percent of voters say they disapprove of the way he is handling his job.
That's a far fall for a president who beat his Republican opponents here in the Granite State overwhelmingly in both 2008 and just two years ago in 2012.
And that's part of the problem. Brown and his supporters are tying the incumbent senator to the president, as exemplified by a recent campaign sign from Brown supporters: "Stand with Obama, vote for Shaheen."
The '99 percent' factor
It's why Brown rarely speaks a sentence without tying Shaheen to the president.
"She's voting with the president 99% of the time," Brown told us over and over, just has he did minutes earlier at a small business event here earlier this week.
Shaheen is just as disciplined with her responses.
"You know, Scott Brown can talk about 99 percent all he wants," Shaheen told us later in Exeter.
"This race is not between the President and Scott Brown, this race is between me and Scott Brown."
Shaheen has something going for her that some Senate colleagues around the country in tough races do not. She is a former governor who is not only well known, but relatively well liked.
Her favorability rating in the CNN/ORC poll is 52%, much higher than the president's.
Brown is under water -- with 50% saying they have an unfavorable view of him, 48% favorable.
Shaheen tries to exploit that by painting him as an opportunist -- repeatedly reminding voters that two years ago Brown was a senator from Massachusetts, until he lost.
"When he was in Washington representing Massachusetts he was there for the corporate special interests," Shaheen told CNN.
"I'm going to continue to remind people what he represented when he was in Massachusetts and it wasn't our middle-class families, it wasn't our small businesses, it wasn't what's good for New Hampshire," Shaheen told us.
Brown and other Republicans insist he has beaten the carpetbagger issue by visiting with New Hampshire voters all over the state (he still drives the beat-up pickup truck that became famous in 2010 when he won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in a Massachusetts special election).
When asked about his move on the campaign trail, Brown notes that he was born in the Granite State and has family ties that go back generations.
"We have long and strong ties to New Hampshire and so does Senator Shaheen. We both care about New Hampshire so let's talk about where we're going, not about where we've been," Brown said.
Another way strategists here in both parties agree Brown has made gains is by seizing on ripped-from-the-headlines national-security issues like the threat from ISIS and Ebola, and playing them as examples of how Washington is broken.
Shaheen calls it fear-mongering, which Brown naturally dismisses.
"What I hear is that people are deeply concerned about the border, they're deeply concerned about ISIS, they're deeply concerned about the lack of clear and coherent foreign policy, and the fact that Senator Shaheen is on the Foreign Relations Committee and has endorsed those incoherent policies from day one," Brown told us.
The ISIS threat does hit home here in a unique way. The first American beheaded, James Foley, was from New Hampshire.
National versus local issues
While Brown's campaign aides are quite candid that they believe their path to victory is to nationalize the race by linking Shaheen to the President and playing up national-security issues, Shaheen is trying hard to keep it local.
She is already known as someone with exceptional constituent services, now as senator and before that as governor. Even GOP sources here speak admiringly of her commitment to returning regularly for local events throughout her last six years in the Senate.
Shaheen insists that is what people are most about.
"It's the people who are working now up at the Berlin prison because I went in and fought to get that prison open after it sat empty for 12 years, its the 12 people who are in their homes because I worked with them when they were being foreclosed on," Shaheen told us.
"I was at Lincoln Financial in Concord yesterday I didn't get one question about a national issue," she said.
Keeping it local is a national Democratic strategy, in a climate where disapproval of the President and Washington in general leaves them little choice.
Democrats are using it in North Carolina, too, with incumbent Kay Hagan as they pummel her GOP opponent on state education issues.
Whether that strategy can work here and elsewhere may determine whether Democrats can keep control of the Senate during Obama's last two years in office.