The Two Things Elizabeth Warren Needs To Do

Bill Scher

This week’s Public Policy Polling poll showing Republican Sen. Scott Brown opening up a 5-point lead over Consumer Financial Protection Bureau architect Elizabeth Warren will certainly be a wake-up call to her campaign and her supporters. But will she, and we, draw the right lessons?

Before we get too overwrought and overanalyze every utterance in the campaign so far (i.e. The New Republic’s “Boston Common: Elizabeth Warren’s Uninspiring Campaign”), let me, as a Massachusetts resident, explain one thing:

It’s August. No one is following this race yet. There haven’t been any debates yet. There isn’t blow-by-blow media coverage yet.

Therefore, you can’t draw the conclusion that every message that has come out of Scott Brown’s mouth is genius and everything populist utterance from Warren is “uninspiring.”)

But this week’s poll, as well as most every other poll so far which has shown a dead heat, does suggest that many Massachusetts voters are not itching to fire Brown and were not already in love with Warren — if they even knew who she was — before she jumped in the race.

One flaw that many liberals have (and probably conservatives too) is the assumption that there are silver bullet candidates and silver bullet messages.

No matter how strong your candidate is (and I think Warren is strong) or how potent your message is (and think Warren’s message and record on “fighting for middle-class families” is potent), your opponent is always going to have cards to play.

And Scott Brown has spent two years building a bland, blurry record so he wouldn’t be an easy mark.

His slogan is as empty as a slogan can be: “He’s For Us.” When he visits the state, he talks about “the Patriots, the Red Sox, and the weather.” What little legislation he’s drafted deals with safe, non-controversial issues. He literally ran a radio ad that talked about nothing else but his love for the Boston Celtics.

Plus, he throws in the occasional bipartisan vote to shore up his “independent voice” credentials. When Warren correctly mentions that he’s heavily funded by Wall Street, he can respond that he voted President Obama’s Wall Street reform law. When Warren pulls quotes showing Brown’s sympathies to Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget, Brown can say that he still voted against it.

The upshot is that the average Massachusetts voter who is plenty angry at a rigged system for the big banks and at the continuing decline of the middle class, isn’t going into this race assuming Scott Brown is part of the problem.

So even though the Public Policy Polling analysis shows that “53% want Democrats in charge” of the Senate, “14% of those who prefer the Democrats are voting for Brown right now.”

In turn, PPP concludes: “There are two keys for a Warren victory: convincing the majority of voters who want a Democratic-controlled Senate that it depends on her winning, and knocking down Brown’s image as a moderate rebel…”

Let’s put a fine point on that. What exactly are the two things she can drill home to make those points stick?

Warren doesn’t need to make a crude partisan case — the plurality of Massachusetts voters are “unenrolled” and not registered with a party.

But she clearly has an opening to say:

We need a Democratic-majority Senate, not to be a rubber stamp, but to have any hope of ending Republican obstruction so we can take action to create jobs, restore tax fairness, rein in the big banks, invest in infrastructure and make college affordable.

And this race could literally decide which party runs the Senate and sets the nation’s agenda.

Yet how can she change the soft, inoffensive persona of Scott Brown, so voters see he stands in the way of a Senate that can act on behalf of the middle class? What can she say that Brown can’t so easily wriggle out of? She can say:

Scott Brown has almost never broken ranks with his Republican Party when it counted, when his vote would have made the difference.

Sure, he voted against the Ryan budget. But that budget was DOA in the Senate anyway.

Sure, he voted to extend unemployment insurance at first. But then, after checking that “independent” box, a few months later he flip-flopped and voted for a filibuster that would have cut off jobless aid.

The one time he was the 60th vote was for Wall Street reform, and even then he only jumped on board after using his leverage to water down the bill on behalf of his donors and after passage, tried to weaken the law’s implementation.

For Warren’s messages about revitalizing the middle class to hit the target, voters need to know that their current representative in the Senate — despite his easy smile and fancy truck — is the main obstacle to the action they demand.

Brown may not be an easy mark, but because he has never actually broken ranks and actually fought on behalf of middle-class Bay Staters, there remains a target on his truck to hit.

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