They say "all politics is local"; Republican Sen. Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts surely hopes so.
Mr. Brown rode to the Senate two years ago on a national wave of tea party sentiment and a promise to help block President Obama's health care bill, but this time around he's going local as he seeks re-election in the deep-blue state.
His hotly contested race against presumed Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren is on track to become one of the most expensive ever, with the candidates running neck-and-neck in recent polls and both sitting on campaign war chests of more than $10 million seven months before the election.
With the race starting to pick up steam in recent weeks, Mr. Brown has been driving around the state in his pickup truck, trying to persuade voters around one of the nation's most-liberal states that he's the local advocate they need — even if he is a Republican.
As Mr. Brown strives to localize the race, Mrs. Warren seeks to do the opposite.
A Harvard professor with a national reputation as Mr. Obama's top consumer-protection adviser, she has busied herself reminding Massachusetts residents of when Mr. Brown has voted with his party and warning them that electing him could tip Senate control toward the Republicans.
"Brown's saying, 'I'm one of you and I vote straight down the middle, based on what's best for Massachusetts,' " said Republican strategist Rob Gray. "Warren's saying that Scott Brown is another vote for Republicans in Washington."
Last month, Mrs. Warren blasted Mr. Brown for siding with Republicans to oppose a measure to end $4 billion in tax subsidies for oil companies, for opposing the jobs bills put forth by Mr. Obama, and for co-sponsoring an amendment providing extensive conscience protections to groups refusing to pay for contraception under the health care law.
"Scott Brown is on the wrong side here, standing with Washington and Republican extremists and against the people of Massachusetts," she said.
But Mr. Brown has been careful to hedge his bets over the two years he's been in Washington, joining fellow New England Republicans, Sens. Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, to vote for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill and forging a reputation as a fairly centrist voter.
"They're going to attack him on some votes, but he's amassed a pretty moderate record in the Senate," said David Hopkins, a political-science professor at Boston College. "It's just going to be sort of partisan argument they're going to make — which is probably going to be one of their strongest potential arguments. You tie into the less popular party."
Polls show the two virtually tied. Mrs. Warren has rapidly narrowed the gap in funding, announcing last week that she raised $6.9 million in the first quarter of 2012 — more than double the $3.4 million Mr. Brown pulled in.
Both candidates have already hauled in millions more than what most Senate winners spend by Election Day. Mr. Brown's campaign said he has about $15 million on hand, while Mrs. Warren is sitting on about $11 million.
The average U.S. senator who ran in 2010 spent a total of $9 million to win, according to data from the Campaign Finance Institute. With both Mr. Brown and Mrs. Warren having reached and exceeded that threshold months ago, some analysts say their finances could be less of an issue in Massachusetts than in other states.
"I'm guessing what's going to end up happening is the money is not going to decide this election — both sides will have what they need," Mr. Hopkins said. "This media market isn't that big, how many ads can you run?"
Mr. Brown released a radio spot last week commemorating the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park and embracing the Boston Red Sox, even though local media quickly pointed out that he pushed to move the team from the historic park in 2000.
What could tip the scales is how much outside groups pump in, analysts say.
Mr. Brown and Mrs. Warren struck a deal in January calling on third-party groups to stay out of the race. They agreed that if a group runs an ad, the benefitting campaign must make a charitable contribution worth half the ad's costs within three days.
But that's no guarantee that super PACs won't jump in at some point. Before the deal, groups such as the Republican-affiliated Crossroads GPS and the liberal League of Conservation Voters had already poured millions into attack ads.
"I think they will," said Deborah Schildkraut, a political science professor at Tufts University, saying there's little chance super PACs will stay out of the marquee contest for long. "Frankly, there's not much the candidates can probably do about it."
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