Largely overlooked in assessing Brown’s prospects: the hidden hand of Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor headlined at a fundraiser for Brown last October. And Romney has helped Brown raise money outside the state as well. “I know Scott and how determined he is to win. I’ve campaigned for him, raised money on his behalf, and we’re doing all we can to help him over the finish line,” Romney wrote supporters last Monday. Brown, 50, raised $1.3 million that day.

But lest anyone accuse Romney of being a Johnny-come-lately—stepping up only as Brown has vaulted from sacrificial lamb to serious threat—the 2008 presidential hopeful has lent crucial support behind the scenes from the start of Brown’s campaign. Ever since he entered the race to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, Brown has been counseled by members of the Shawmut Group, a Boston-based consulting firm that acts as the Romney political brain trust in exile. Among the many Romney disciples running Brown’s campaign are Beth Myers, the campaign manager of Romney’s presidential run; Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s chief spokesman; Peter Flaherty, Romney’s “go-to-guy for conservatives”; and Rob Cole, Romney’s 2008 deputy chairman manager. Beth Lindstrom, another player in Romney World, is working as Brown’s campaign manager. Lindstrom’s ties to Romney go back years; she started working with him in the Massachusetts State House as director of consumer affairs.