Of course, the title of this post is just a jest – no hard feelings, Herald! But seriously, folks, the fundraising numbers are starting to trickle in from the first quarter of 2012, and so far, they look awfully good for Elizabeth Warren. Some highlights:
- Over 30,000 donors from Massachusetts
- Over $2.5 million raised from Massachusetts
- Donations from 350 of the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts (Monroe, population 121, located just east of North Adams on the Vermont border, is the lone holdout)
- 90% of donations were less than $200; nearly half (48%) were less than $25
I’d also like to chime in on a couple of bits of conventional wisdom that have been making the rounds lately. In brief, they are wrong, at least in part.
- Conventional wisdom: The Warren campaign is a disaster and doesn’t know what it’s doing
We’ve heard several variations on this theme recently, most strongly from the Springfield Republican (ironic, no?), but also from Joan Vennochi at the Globe. But the easy and, at this stage of the game, sufficient rebuttal is the poll numbers: some weeks Brown is up a couple points and some weeks Warren is up, but basically, it’s a tie. That is extraordinary for a first-time candidate, previously unknown to the vast majority of the state, who is trying to take on the guy who, when he won only two years ago, was the hottest political commodity in the entire country, and who until recently regularly registered as the most popular politician in the state (he was recently overtaken by Martha Coakley – talk about irony). Rather than asking why Warren isn’t doing better, it seems to make more sense to ask why Brown is doing so badly. Why is he having so much trouble keeping the independents who voted for him in 2010 in his column? At this early stage, Brown should be polling well ahead of Warren. The fact that he isn’t, well, that’s bad for Brown.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there are lots of things the Warren folks could be doing better. The website, for one thing, is pretty bad. Also, I have heard reports of people trying to volunteer and not getting called back for days, or even at all. That is of course not acceptable, and one assumes that, as the campaign ramps up its field staff (which it is doing, according to a campaign email that went out today), that problem will go away. But it’s hardly Warren’s fault that Scott Brown is good at using the power of incumbency to promote his candidacy, as the Republican editorial discusses (say, didn’t Tim Cahill just get indicted for something similar?), or that Brown has recently taken a series of moderate positions on issues of interest to women in an effort to burnish his moderate/independent image, as Vennochi notes. Brown is a very good politician, as I’ve said over and over again, and he’ll be tough to beat. But there’s no sense in blaming the Warren campaign for things that aren’t its fault.
- Conventional wisdom: The “People’s Pledge” banning third-party advertising is an advantage for Brown
The theory is this: Warren won’t raise as much money as Brown, and she is less well-known, so she needs the help of outside groups to get her message out more than Brown does. Therefore, Brown benefits from the parties’ agreement to keep those groups out of the Senate race.
I think that’s wrong, and here’s why. The big opportunity with a relatively unknown candidate like Warren is to define that candidate negatively before she gets a chance to define herself. That’s what third-party groups are really great at doing – witness the negative ad blitz from the Republican Governors Association that sent Tim Cahill into a tailspin from which he never recovered. But the candidates themselves – especially candidates like Scott Brown who depend heavily on their positive image – don’t want to be running negative ads against their opponents this early in the cycle (or, really, ever).
So the People’s Pledge takes away a huge weapon from the Brown campaign. We’re already seeing it in action. The Mass. GOP has been hard at work producing negative attack videos that depict Elizabeth Warren as an illegal immigrant-loving, job-hating, Hollywood-courting, wealthy, out-of-touch Harvard professor. But because of the Pledge, all Mass. GOP can do is post them on their website where … well, to put it charitably, nobody watches them. The recorded views range from a few hundred to a few thousand, but they simply will never get anywhere close to the number of eyeballs that even a local cable TV ad would get, to say nothing of a network buy. Plus, one has to imagine that the vast majority of people who are traveling to the Mass. GOP’s website to view an attack video are either media researching a story, or people who are already solidly in Brown’s camp. Undecided voters … well, let’s just say I don’t expect them to be checking out either the Mass. Dems or the Mass. GOP website for insight into the candidates.
Instead, the candidates are getting to define themselves in this race. And, according to the numbers in the Globe’s recent poll, it’s working: both candidates are in very positive fav/unfav territory (+25 for Brown, +24 for Warren), both candidates have good numbers in the “understands the needs of people like me” category, Warren beats Brown in the “will help working people” and “will reduce the power of corporations” categories, and Brown is ahead in the “cutting spending on social programs” and “balancing the budget” categories.
In my view, this is a very good thing. I want the people of Massachusetts to get to choose between “the real Scott Brown” and “the real Elizabeth Warren.” I don’t see any reason why the pro-Warren side needs slick negative ads from some DC-based interest group to try to demonize Scott Brown as some sort of Mitch McConnell clone (also, as I’ve said before, it won’t work), and I certainly think it’s a good thing that no third-party anti-Warren ads from the Karl Rove gang will run. If the Warren campaign gets its message out effectively, I think we win. They have work to do, but there is time.