While the Senate electoral field in 2012 is tilted heavily toward the Republicans (Democrats must defend 23 seats to the GOP's 10), there is at least one Republican who will have to mount a serious reelection campaign: Scott Brown of Massachusetts. PPP reports that he's in good shape, at least for now:

As Scott Brown's first year in the Senate comes to a close he remains an extremely formidable political presence and leads five hypothetical 2012 reelection opponents by margins ranging anywhere from 7 to 19 points.

Vicki Kennedy (48-41) and Deval Patrick (49-42) do the best against Brown, each trailing by 7 points. Ed Markey trails by 10 (49-39), Mike Capuano does by 16 (52-36), and Stephen Lynch does by 19 (49-30).

Brown is one of the most popular Senators in the country, with 53% of voters approving of his job performance and only 29% disapproving. He continues to have incredible appeal to independents, with whom his approval spread is 61/25. He also breaks nearly even among Democrats with 35% approving and 41% disapproving of what he's done so far. The only other Republican Senators PPP's polled on this year with that much appeal to Democrats are Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham. What sets Brown apart from that trio is he's managed to generate that popularity across party lines without antagonizing voters in his own party- Republicans give him a 74/13 approval.

My feeling for a while has been that Republicans have ceded too much of New England almost by default in recent years. Democrats dominate there, but in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island a plurality of voters are registered as independents. That suggests an opening for Republicans that, so far, they have generally been unable to benefit from. In the 2010 midterm, for instance, just 2 Democratic-held House seats, both in New Hampshire, went Republican, while the Democrats held toss-up seats in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

Unfortunately, many conservatives often are frustrated with this region because they feel as though the choice is between a RINO and a liberal Democrat, which to them isn't much of a choice. I don't necessarily agree with this sentiment (and personally I would usually choose a RINO over a liberal Democrat -- almost all of the liberals voted for Obamacare while none of the RINOs did!), but I appreciate why conservatives feel this way.

This is why I think Scott Brown is somebody that conservatives should study carefully. Obviously, his voting record has not been overwhelmingly conservative, but by the same token I think it would be unfair to call him a RINO. And yet, if PPP is to be believed, he is in extremely good shape, with a net job approval of +24 and solid leads over his nearest competitors. Might he teach us how to square this circle?

If Brown manages to win in 2012 without going the way of the RINO, Republicans and conservatives would be well advised to ask: What's this guy's secret? How has he been able to succeed as a moderate conservative in such a deep blue region of the country? Note, in particular, his appeal with independents in Massachusetts, who tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic in Senate and presidential elections. How has Brown been able to hold them in his voting coalition without attracting charges of RINOism?

I honestly do not know the answer to these questions, but I'd really like to. New England does not nearly have the electoral power that it used to, but there is no reason for the GOP to cede it every year to the Democrats, so the latter can concentrate their resources on the Midwest.

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