Is Elizabeth Warren Martha Coakley with a fake ethnicity?

“Elizabeth Warren was supposed to be the Great Liberal Hope, the one Democrat tough enough to evict Scott Brown from Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. Then she started campaigning.” So begins a devastating critique of Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy that appeared in Boston Magazine.

Shockingly, as the reader who alerted me to this article put it, the Harvard prof who lives in Cambridge isn’t connecting in the suburbs with middle class and union folks:

To nearly everyone who knows her name, Elizabeth Warren has become a symbol. But in the months since she announced her intention to unseat Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren has become something else: a candidate. And that is proving to be the challenge. . . .

At public events, she sticks to her stump speech and rarely strays from her talking points. That means she only occasionally takes questions from supporters. Despite the fact that Warren owes much of her fame to her role as a media darling, her team limits press access. And Warren’s delivery has become increasingly polished, with her campaign stops rarely looking like the bombastic performances that made her a celebrity. “She’s toned down her rhetoric and style to make herself more palatable,” says Boston University political historian Thomas Whalen. “At this point, she’s talking more in platitudes.”

But playing it safe can a take a toll. At an event in Roxbury this April, I watched as the 300 community organizers in the room recoiled when Warren abruptly put down the mike after her speech. They’d been told she would be holding a Q & A. As she hugged supporters and took pictures on the far side of the room, a small debate took place on the sidelines, with the local politicians who’d hosted the event telling her staffers that this just isn’t how things are done. (Left unanswered was whether the campaign didn’t know about the anticipated Q & A or had decided that Warren simply wasn’t ready for questions.) It felt like a missed opportunity.

The truth is that the supposed most-important Senate race in the country has been surprisingly lacking in substance, with the candidates seemingly less concerned about the state of the country than about debate formats, racial heritage, and whether they’ve held secret meetings with foreign monarchs.

When I ask Doug Rubin, Warren’s campaign guru, about the lack of substance, he takes offense. “I think that’s unfair to Elizabeth, honestly,” he says. “If you go back and look at all the press releases and events we have done, we’ve talked about real issues. Substantive issues. It takes two to engage.”

But her struggles are evident in the poll numbers. Though most surveys show the two locked in a dead heat, the numbers reveal that one of Warren’s key talking points-that a vote for Scott Brown is a vote for Wall Street-isn’t resonating (only a third of voters agree). And Brown has scored much better on the all-important likability factor, with the Globe finding earlier in the race that 52 percent of voters thought he was the more likable candidate, while just 26 percent said it was Warren. (Even Democrats “liked” Brown more by two points.)

As for polling of the race itself, the only survey I know of from August, by the Democratic outfit PPP, showed Brown leading by 49-44. All previous polls of which I’m aware had the race within the margin of error. Maybe the PPP poll is an outlier. Or maybe Elizabeth Warren has already morphed from crusading liberal icon into Martha Coakley with a fake ethnicity.


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