RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And in one of the closest Senate races in the country, it looks like two politicians may be reversing their positions. Massachusetts Republican incumbent Scott Brown had maintained a slim lead in the polls for months, now suddenly he's trailing his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren in four of the five most recent voter surveys. From member station WBUR in Boston, Curt Nickisch reports it may be the result of an unusual convention bounce.
CURT NICKISCH, BYLINE: Elizabeth Warren is no Washington wannabe newbie. She got the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau up and running, an agency she proposed and pushed. Then, after Republican senators blocked her from leading it, she decided to run for political office for the first time. And it shows.
Her campaign got bogged down answering questions about her Native American ancestry. Her television ads looked a little amateurish. Analysts have even been saying the Harvard law school professor needs to get rid of her granny glasses.
ELIZABETH WARREN: Thank you. Thank you.
NICKISCH: But this week, at a campaign event in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, Warren shrugged off her sudden frontrunner status like an old political hand.
WARREN: Me, I'm out there every single day, working for every single vote. And that would be true, regardless of where I am in the polls. I'm just out here having fun. I'm out here talking to people. I'm out here talking about what we have a chance to do in this election.
NICKISCH: Four out of the last five polls place Elizabeth Warren ahead, though narrowly. One out yesterday from WBUR, has her five points in front. Combine that with the first attack ad in the race, and suddenly, Scott Brown is on the defensive.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
SENATOR SCOTT BROWN: Have you seen Elizabeth Warren's latest ads? Instead of talking about things that matter, like jobs, she's being dishonest about who I am and what I stand for...
NICKISCH: Normally Brown's TV spots show the self-confident incumbent coasting in his pickup truck, or embracing his wife, a TV reporter. Not this recent one.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
BROWN: Don't be fooled by Elizabeth Warren's negative attacks. Like a lot of you, I came from nothing. I'm on your side, fighting for the middle class, an Independent voice you can count on.
NICKISCH: Scott Brown has carefully cultivated an image as an independent, ever since he scored an amazing upset two years ago, winning Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat in a special election. The moderate image has served Brown well in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one.
University of Massachusetts political scientist Paul Watanabe says it's not a coincidence that Brown has lost his narrow lead at a time when political divisions came into sharper relief.
PAUL WATANABE: It is a convention bump. But it has more to do than just Elizabeth Warren's having appeared on national television and appeared at that convention.
NICKISCH: It also has to do with a convention speech that wasn't given. At the Republican National Convention, Scott Brown barely dropped in, trying to keep his distance from GOP platform issues that are unpopular back here in Massachusetts.
J.T. KLETTE: It's hard to separate Scott Brown from the Republican National Party. I mean, that's just really it.
NICKISCH: Voter J.T. Klette says he realized that voting for Scott Brown would be voting for Republicans to take control of the Senate.
KLETTE: You know, I'm nervous that they don't represent who I am here in Massachusetts. You know, and I think right now Elizabeth Warren represents it significantly better than Scott Brown does.
NICKISCH: Warren's bounce in recent polls frustrates voter Jeff Carlson, a financial analyst who's not a fan of her attacks on Wall Street. Warren has lived in Massachusetts for 20 years, but Carlson's bothered by the Oklahoma twang you can still hear in her voice.
JEFF CARLSON: You know, she's an outsider to Massachusetts. And residents of the Commonwealth aren't too fond of outsiders. So it's seems to boggle me a little bit that they've attached to her so quickly.
NICKISCH: There's plenty of time for residents to detach and reattach and detach again. Four televised debates beginning tonight will give undecided voters more on which to base their decision - one that could pivot control of the U.S. Senate.
For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch, in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.