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The Natural ­Versus the Phony

Can a politically gifted Republican survive in Democratic Massachusetts?

Oct 8, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 04 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Elizabeth Warren is opening a new campaign office in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury. The 63-year-old Harvard law professor is wearing a pink jacket, white blouse, and black pants. After shaking hands with everyone around the parking lot, she chooses a low spot in the pavement in front of the office door to speak to the crowd. Warren is noticeably shorter than the local community leaders who introduce her. She clutches the microphone in her right hand and gestures with her left as she works through her stump speech.

Elizabeth Warren

“I don’t kid myself. I know it’s going to be a fight,” Warren says. Her voice is flat, her rhythm slow and deliberate. “I know it’s going to be tough. I know they’re going to throw everything they possibly can at me. I know this. I know this. But here’s what I want to tell you. I am not afraid.” Warren’s voice gets louder. “I am not afraid.” And more piercing. “I am not afraid!”

And why should she be? Warren is running for senator as a liberal Democrat in Massachusetts, in a year when the liberal Democratic president is up for reelection, and in a state where he’s never been more popular. Her opponent is the 53-year-old incumbent, Scott Brown, the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation, and the only Republican statewide elected official. Brown won a low-turnout special election in 2010 by driving around the state in his pickup truck, wearing a brown Carhartt jacket. His image as a moderate Republican with blue-collar roots appealed to Democratic-leaning middle-class independents. In Massachusetts, though, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than three to one. Warren ought to be running away with this race.

But Warren’s not running away with this race. The Real Clear Politics poll average shows Warren fewer than 2 points ahead of Brown, and a Rasmussen poll released last week shows the candidates tied. Most observers consider the race a toss-up. At the candidates’ first debate on September 20, a whole cadre of national reporters traveled to Boston to watch. It turns out the year’s most interesting Senate race isn’t in a swing state like Virginia or Ohio but in deep-blue Massachusetts.

The fact is, Scott Brown is one of the most gifted natural politicians in the country, and Elizabeth Warren simply isn’t. 

Warren’s campaign has had its fair share of stumbles. When the media first began asking questions about her claim of Cherokee heritage, especially whether she had used that claim to advance her career, Warren was unclear and contradictory in her answers. Her television advertisements, most of which feature a serious Warren speaking directly to the camera, have fallen flat. Her best ad is a testimonial from a well-known boxing trainer, Art Ramalho of Lowell, who praises the Harvard lawyer from Oklahoma in his thick New England accent. Warren herself doesn’t appear in the ad until halfway through. 

But it’s on the trail that Warren really looks out of her league. At a rally in Roslindale, another Boston neighborhood, Warren is preceded at the podium by Mike Monahan, a leader from the local electrical workers’ union, and Tom Menino, Boston’s Democratic mayor for nearly two decades. Monahan delivers a stemwinder that cuts right at Scott Brown’s blue-collar image.

“Pick-up truck? Carhartt?” Monahan says, pronouncing it Cah-haht. “Don’t let him insult your intelligence. Where’s the cutting oil stains on that Carhartt? Where’s the chalk stains on that Carhartt? Where’s the rip from the rebar tie wire? There’s none, because that jacket or truck has never seen a day’s work.”

Menino, who is officially endorsing Warren, is up next. After mentioning that he knows and likes Brown, he knocks the Republican for being an unprincipled moderate. “If you’re going to represent the people of Massachusetts, you can’t be middle-of-the-road when it comes to trade and jobs for our residents,” Menino says. “You can’t be wishy-washy on housing investment, protecting families from foreclosure. You can’t be on the fence when it comes to federal research dollars that fuel our hospitals and our universities.”

Then Menino delivers the Ted Kennedy endorsement from beyond the grave. “Elizabeth gets my appreciation every time she defends universal health care in a way that would make Teddy proud,” he says.

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