By now, you’ve probably seen the negative ads launched by Scott Brown and his supporters. Instead of discussing issues like health care and jobs, they decided the best way to stop me is to tear me down. But the old way of doing things won’t work anymore. Their attack ads are wrong, and go too far.
The above words could easily have been spoken by Elizabeth Warren in response to Scott Brown’s latest ad, a classic negative attack ad about Warren’s heritage featuring a series of months-old distorted video images. In fact, however, those words were spoken by Brown himself (with different names, obviously), in his famously successful response to an attack ad that Martha Coakley launched at him when the race looked to be slipping away from her in 2010.
Brown was right back in 2010: Coakley’s ad was a failure, and all it did was signal that she was losing. And I think that exactly the same dynamic is at work here. Brown is panicking in light of four polls (despite the weird outlier from the Herald) showing Warren with a clear lead, in light of his widely-panned performance in the first debate, and perhaps also in light of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s unabashedly enthusiastic endorsement of Warren, which must have come as a bitter disappointment to Brown. (Interestingly, Menino was very critical of the focus on Warren’s heritage back in May. One wonders whether Brown was holding off re-upping the heritage attacks in hopes that Menino would at least stay on the sidelines in this race, but now that he’s made clear that he’s all-in for Warren, Brown is like, screw it, what have I got to lose.)
Hence, Brown apparently has decided that it’s worth sacrificing his nice-guy image in a desperate effort to bring up Warren’s negatives. But what that does is generate national stories with titles like “Scott Brown: No more Mr. Nice Guy” and observations like “polls showing the liberal consumer advocate inching ahead of the Republican incumbent,” that the new, negative, issue-free strategy “would pose considerable risk for Brown, who has built his candidacy around a conciliatory, good-guy persona and regularly posts favorability ratings above 50 percent,” and that “the ad bears some risk because Brown has built his popularity as a politician who is above destructive politics.”
That is not how a campaign behaves when it thinks it’s winning.
UPDATE: Team Warren hits back. Money quote, at the end: “I’m Elizabeth Warren and I approve this message. Scott Brown can continue attacking my family, but I’m going to keep fighting for yours.”