Aug. 7, 2012 -- 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.
"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."
The conversation in the Senate race has mirrored the presidential race, with Brown attacking Warren for comments she made in 2011 when she said "there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own." The comments mirror Obama's "you didn't build that" remarks last month on which Republicans have pounced.
Brown last week launched a "Thank You for Building This" tour, as part of his campaign's efforts to highlight the senator's support for free enterprise. Brown kicked off the tour Friday by bringing coffee and donuts to a construction crew in Framingham, Mass.
"I've visited over 500 businesses, this is an extension of what I've been doing since I was elected," Brown said. "I'm going to go out there and thank those job creators, people who have put their hard earned sweat equity, their livelihood on the line, and my word to them is, 'Thank you.'"
Warren isn't backing down from her comments, however. Indeed, the first-time candidate has made infrastructure a big part of her proposed policy agenda, recently launching her "Rebuild Now" tour that calls for an investment in the country's infrastructure.
"American businesses can compete with anyone so long as they're competing on a level playing field," Warren said. "But when the Chinese are making big investments in infrastructure, that means that their businesses will get their goods to market on state-of-the-art roads and bridges, they'll have state-of-the-art communications and power ... that gives their businesses a real competitive advantage over the next 25 years."
Warren's unapologetic support for such government investment has helped to make her a rising star within the Democratic base. Her status was highlighted by the recent announcement that she would have a prominent speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., next month. Warren will be introducing Bill Clinton.
"I'm going to talk about what I've talked about for years now," Warren said when asked about her speech. "America's middle class is getting hammered and Washington is rigged to work for the big guy. That's what got me into this race, and that's what I will talk about."
Whether it will win over the hearts of a majority of Massachusetts voters is the bigger question, though. The race is everywhere in the state: turn on the radio, glance a newspaper, even just walk down the streets of Boston and you will hear an ad, see an article, or pass by a bumper sticker for one of the two candidates. And that presence is only going to increase in the coming weeks and months.
The race is the most expensive Senate race in the country so far in terms of money raised. A combined total of $46 million has been raised already, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and so Massachusetts residents can expect to be blanketed with a lot more TV, radio and Internet advertising as November draws closer. Voters will also get a chance to see Brown and Warren go head-to-head soon. In the fall, the candidates will face off in a series of four televised debates.
What voters might not see, however, are ads from outside groups. Brown and Warren in January signed an agreement called "the People's Pledge," which vowed to keep advertisements from third-party spending groups out of the race. Eight months later, the pledge is still in place. Warren says she believes the plan has allowed the candidates to focus more on the issues.
"It has at least opened the space to be able to talk about issues," Warren said.
For months now, polling has shown the two candidates in a statistical tie, and barring any big surprises, it's expected to stay that way. Unsurprisingly, each candidate holds a different opinion on what the race is ultimately about.
"This is really about jobs and the economy and how we are going to get our country moving again," Brown said. "You're going to have somebody down there who has been doing his job, me, working on the issues that matter, jobs and the economy, versus somebody who's a rock- thrower and doesn't want to compromise."
Warren said, "I think it's about the kind of people we are, and the kind of people we're trying to be.
"To me, it's about this vision, what kind of people are we and what kind of country are we trying to be?"