First, let’s set the record straight on something. Martha Coakley did not lose the Senate race because she thought that Curt Schilling played for the Yankees. That gaffe did not halt the momentum of what otherwise would have been a win for the Democrats. What it did, rather, was reinforce a narrative that had already gathered a probably-unstoppable-anyway head of steam by that point: that Coakley was aloof and was taking her election for granted instead of working for it (on that score, the comment about shaking hands outside Fenway Park in the cold was far more damaging). In that context, her gaffe about Schilling was damaging for two related reasons: (1) it added to a growing sense that Coakley was “out of touch” with the “real” Massachusetts, and (2) it revealed her as a poser – someone who was pretending to be something she wasn’t (in this case a minimally knowledgeable Red Sox fan). As I’ve written before, a “poser” is one of a few political stereotypes that can be extremely damaging to a candidate who becomes associated with them. Her problem wasn’t that she didn’t know who Curt Schilling was; it’s that she pretended to know and got caught out. If, even at that late stage of the campaign, Coakley had responded to the Curt Schilling question (or comment, I forget which) by changing the subject, or even by confessing ignorance, nobody would remember it as a significant event in the campaign.
Now, why do I bring this up? Because yesterday, on what seems generally to have been a well-received first day on the campaign trail for Elizabeth Warren (even the Democrat-hatin’ Kevin Whalen of WRKO and Pundit Review called it “a good first impression“), a reporter apparently asked her to name some current Red Sox players, and she declined to do so. This report, naturally, spurred a back-and-forth on Twitter about whether or not it mattered, and why.
It didn’t. Let’s talk in stereotypes for a moment: Elizabeth Warren is a 62-year-old grandmother. Other things being equal, nobody expects a “person like that” to be able to rattle off the Red Sox starting lineup. Therefore, when such a person is asked to do so and demurs, it doesn’t matter – nothing has changed.
Now, of course, Elizabeth Warren isn’t just any 62-year-old grandmother. She is a 62-year-old grandmother who is running for Senate, and therefore what the public thinks of her matters. So if the public already saw Warren as out of touch with their lives and concerns, or worse, if she had previously made some comments suggesting that she knew a lot about baseball, and then she couldn’t name anyone, it would matter. But none of that is the case. To the contrary, early reports suggest that Warren is both good at connecting with middle-class voters – not surprising, given that her life’s work has been to champion their interests – and disarmingly honest about her relative lack of knowledge about the Red Sox. (The Telegram article reports that Warren “asked supporters after her campaign stop how the team was doing, gesturing to televisions showing the game inside the restaurant.”)
The best thing Elizabeth Warren (or, really, any candidate) can do is to be herself – and she seems to get this, given her comment quoted in the Telegram: “I can’t change what I do or who I am.” If she doesn’t know anything about the Red Sox, great! There’s nothing wrong with that. She’s not running for Commissioner of Major League Baseball. And, frankly, voters care a lot more about whether they think a candidate understands their concerns about things that really matter – like their jobs and their families’ economic prospects – than whether their candidate can rattle off a bunch of Red Sox starters. If Warren can assure voters on the former, her honest lack of knowledge on the latter will be utterly irrelevant.