Massachusetts Senate Race Pits the Colonel vs. the Professor

PHOTO: Sen. Scott Brown, ranking member of the Senate Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, holds a hearing on mismanagement of contracts at Arlington National Cemetery, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 29, 2010.

BOSTON -- Ask any Republican or Democrat to name the most important Senate races in the fight for control of the Democratic-led chamber, and they will undoubtedly include one state in particular: Massachusetts. The state's Republican Sen. Scott Brown will go up against Democrat and Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren in what polling indicates is likely to be a close race.

Such a contest, so far the most expensive U.S. Senate race, was not unexpected in this traditionally Democratic state. Brown, 52, shocked the political establishment in 2010 with his victory in the special election to fill the late Ted Kennedy's seat. This is the year that Kennedy would have been up for re-election, so Brown is up again a mere two years after his first win.

Those familiar with Massachusetts politics, including Brown himself, always expected Democrats to mount an attempt to take back the seat this time around.

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"They want the Kennedy seat back very badly," Brown told ABC News. "They've made that clear. But bottom line is, it's not the Kennedy seat, it's not the Democrats seat, it's still the people's seat."

What was unknown was who would jump in to challenge the freshmen senator. That candidate turned out to be Warren, a professor at Harvard Law School and creator of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a newly formed, federal department that came about under the Obama administration.

With a good level of name recognition established as a result of her work with the agency, as well as her oversight of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (more commonly known as TARP) and a lengthy resume, Warren was the Democrats' answer to the much-considered question of who could challenge the popular senator. Warren, 63, announced her candidacy in September 2011, and the race has been fierce ever since.

The candidates share the same wedding anniversary date, and each one has proven to be a strong fundraiser. But the similarities end there. Brown, who was recently promoted to colonel in the Army National Guard, plays up his regular-guy image (he famously drove his pickup truck around the state when campaigning in 2010) and his bipartisan record. His campaign has run a series of ads featuring a slew of prominent Massachusetts' Democrats, such as former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, endorsing the Republican candidate. His history of reaching across the aisle is something Brown highlights himself.

"Bottom line is, I'm the second-most bipartisan senator in the U.S. Senate," Brown said. "I've done exactly what I said I was going to do, which is to read the bills, understand them, see how they affect Massachusetts, our country, our debt, our deficit and vote."

Warren's campaign has also talked a lot about her humble beginnings: Her father worked as a janitor in Oklahoma, she received a scholarship from George Washington University at age 16. But the campaign has also emphasized her history of protecting the consumer, and of fighting for the middle class.

"I didn't get into this race based on some strategic vision of I could check off six boxes and somehow win the Senate seat," she said. For me, it truly is around the urgency of the movement. I guess you could say the fight came to me."

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