Can Warren crash Massachusetts political gender ceiling?
Elizabeth Warren has become the latest woman candidate to try to crash the Massachusetts glass-ceiling of high state political office. Warren, a Harvard Law professor and noted consumer advocate announced her candidacy yesterday for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Scott Brown.
Warren, 62, must win a primary but she seems to be the Democratic Party’s best candidate for Senate. She is smart, well-spoken and has a track record of fighting against Wall Street excess, which should make her a strong contender against Brown, who is arguably one of Wall Street’s favorite senators.
Warren will need money and lots of it. Brown is sitting on a re-election kitty of more than $10 million. But he won the seat in a special election against Martha Coakley, the Democratic state attorney general who ran a lackluster campaign. It was also a low-turnout affair; Brown received around the same number of votes that John McCain got in Massachusetts in the 2008 presidential campaign, where he was swamped by Barack Obama.
Brown toured the state in his pickup and courted an Everyman image. He is a personable, hail-fellow-well met jock who played basketball at Tufts. Brown is not known for his intellect and in recent months has shied away from tough media questions and famously flip-flopped on the Paul Ryan-Tea Party endorsed budget. He had Tea Party support, which may be a millstone in 2012, a presidential year in reliably Democratic Massachusetts, which of course was the lone state to support George McGovern against Richard Nixon in 1972. Massachusetts hasn’t voted for a GOP presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 49-state landslide.
Warren’s challenge will be to appeal to the street and make sure not to get tarred with the `Havahd’’ elitist label. She can do this because she has a good personal narrative – daughter of the middle-class, educated at a state university, spent her career as a fighter for average middle-class voters. But one never knows how someone who has never been elected to office will play under the relentless scrutiny of a high-profile U.S. Senate race where a candidate is expected to know about everything from the Glass-Steagall Act to the settlement issue in Israel to the ERA of Josh Beckett.
The other factor at play is the role of independent expenditure groups. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has opened the door to huge corporate financing, with scant disclosure, of political campaigns. These independent groups made big inroads in 2010 and helped Republicans win the U.S. House. Seasoned political operatives tell `On Politics’ that these groups will have much more money to spent in 2012 and will usher in a new era of campaign financing that may be good for political consultants, television stations and pollsters but not so good for transparent government. This trend will likely hurt Democrats far more than Republicans who, after all, have always harvested the bulk of corporate PAC money.
The other climb for Warren is gender. Massachusetts is one of only two New England states that have never elected a woman U.S. senator or governor. The other is Rhode Island.
Still, if Warren can get $7-$8 million, win the primary and hire some good consultants, she ought to have a shot at a marquee Senate contest with big national implications because it is one of the few chances Democrats have at tipping over a GOP seat.