Some young polling fellers just out of Suffolk U. pointed us to this post, which got us thinking again: Why is the MA Senate race so stable — and in a tie, at that? Why haven’t Scott Brown or Elizabeth Warren broken through yet? For instance, why have we seen Scott Brown flailing around, talking about a.) Cherokee stuff, b.) welfare, c.) taxes, and not jobs jobs jobs?
Alec MacGillis’s recent article in TNR may have some insight into this, though the emphasis is heavy on the old-school Dem establishment, instead of the more interesting question of why the Deval Patrick coalition has not coalesced around Warren (yet). We know it’s a myth that MA voters won’t go for a statewide Republican except under duress: 16 years of GOP governors ought to have cured anyone of that delusion. (OK, 1990 was under duress.)
- Massachusetts congressional delegation is a recent history of long legacies and political stability. The fact is that neitherBrown nor Warren are all that well known — not compared to Ted Kennedy or John Kerry or Barney Frank. Brown’s been in office for nearly two years, but there’s still a sense of getting-to-know-you. He’s trying to capitalize on a positive-but-fuzzy image with the Ray Flynn-et-al ads.
Warren is obviously a newcomer to electoral politics. She’s well known to the New York Times liberal set, but she’s not a name you’ve been hearing on WBZ-AM for years. Her daughter’s a public-interest lawyer, not an American Idol star. And she’s way behind in the who-you-know game, as MacGillis points out.
- Brown and Warren have been tending different gardens for most of their careers. Brown has been a local politician, and is fluent in local politicking and schmoozing. He has a Massachusetts accent when he wants (“Ayler”). He talks GoSox and GoPats. He often takes the local angle on issues, from the health care device tax and “defending Massachusetts” from the Affordable Care Act, to fishing to “protecting” Massachusetts banks from financial reform. He’s parochial – generally unhelpfully, in my opinion, but there it is.
Warren, on the other hand, has made her name on the national stage. She stresses big structural issues: Student loans, bank regulation, lobbyists, the social contract. These are connected to kitchen-table issues, but in many cases it requires an extra step of logic to connect that with what’s going on in your hometown or your bank account. Liberals who attend house parties understand those connections: That’s the language that we speak. Most folks, I suspect, aren’t primed to make that connection — and even so, the Massachusetts connection is yet to be made. I love this ad, but it could be even more MA-specific.
- Likeability: Brown is smooth, he likes sports, he’s local, he’s gentlemanly, and self-alleged to be bipartisan. Warren is a crusader, out to drive the money-interests and lobbyists out of the temple of democracy. That’s just who they are. In a sense, Massachusetts’ relative economic stability works for the incumbent Brown and against Warren. If things were worse locally, then more folks would be open to a crusader want to shake things up nationally. “Likeability” is relative, a matter of the right person for the job. (cf. Chris Christie or Barney Frank vs. Deval Patrick or Ronald Reagan.)
The upshot? If this is a race that turns on national issues, then I think Warren wins by six or seven points. Obama’s ground game and popularity — relative to Romney and the possibly-toxic Paul Ryan — will figure into that margin. If it turns on a basket of local/parochial issues — or trivialities, like Cherokee-gate and welfare — Brown could sneak by, by maybe 2-3 points.
(A truly baffling question: What the hell is Menino doing withholding his endorsement from Warren? Is he hedging because he thinks Brown is going to protect Boston’s interests vs. a potential Republican Senate majority? Are you kidding me? That’s not a good play.)