Hope and change.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has obtained the results of a private poll conducted last week by a reputable non-partisan firm. In that survey, Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley led Republican state senator Scott Brown in the ballot test by 50% to 39%–not bad for Brown in a state Obama carried by 23 points. More interesting, perhaps, is that while Coakley’s favorable/unfavorable rating was 61% to 32%, Brown’s was 56% to 26%–in other words, they were virtually identical at +29/30. That suggests a potentially very competitive race: If Brown can make his case against another Democratic vote in the U.S. Senate, or against rewarding a member of unpopular governor Deval Patrick’s administration, some voters who currently prefer Coakley might be open to voting for Brown, since they view him favorably as well. THE WEEKLY STANDARD has also learned that an earlier poll, done in mid-December by another firm for another client, had similar results in the ballot test–but that the poll also found that the race tightened significantly, down to a low single digits margin for Coakley, among those judged most likely to vote. Furthermore, a careful analysis by Sean Trende shows, that if one assumes a swing against the Democrats like that in New Jersey and Virginia two months ago, the race could become very close.

More numbers coming tomorrow from Hitler’s pollster, a.k.a. Scott Rasmussen. Geraghty’s got a good pep-talk post up about Brown, noting the all-important Red Sox endorsement and the appealing ad below, but how likely is it that Massachusetts is going to torpedo St. Teddy’s dream of universal health care by electing a Republican to become the Senate’s 41st “no” vote? Don’t give up — this is basically a free kick for the GOP, so by all means, if you can spare it, drop some coin in the man’s piggy bank — but if Brown gets close the media’s going to go into overdrive with Camelot pathos to guilt Massachusetts voters into Doing the Right Thing. Best-case scenario, realistically, is a narrow Brown loss that spooks Blue Dogs for the rest of the year — after they pass ObamaCare, of course.

Exit question: Will the new polls finally force the NRSC to start funding this race or have they given Brown up for dead?