Warren Is Connecting With Voters, But Some Question Campaign Management

Elizabeth Warren, center, campaigns in Shrewsbury in April. With her, at left, is Rep. Jim McGovern. (AP)

Elizabeth Warren, center, campaigns in Shrewsbury in April. With her, at left, is Rep. Jim McGovern. (AP)

BOSTON — In any political race, there is the organization and there is the candidate. Democratic Senate challenger Elizabeth Warren appears to be connecting with voters in her race against the Republican incumbent, Sen. Scott Brown. But when you dig into the management of her campaign, some cracks appear.

Warren On The Trail

Those cracks are not evident at any of Warren’s campaign events.

As a political reporter, you go to hundreds of political events, and one thing you never see is the candidate show up before you. But at a recent campaign event in Brockton, Warren was there well before me. She had a crowd of people around her and was deep into conversation.

The audience listened with rapt attention as she told the stories of people she has met on the campaign trail, like the young college graduate who told her he’s scared about whether there is a future for him.

“And he looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m here because I’m looking for a fighter,’ ” Warren said. “And I said, ‘You found her.’ ” The crowd of about 120 people erupted into applause.

Warren is getting better at working the field. She still slips into professorial mode, but she’s learned to pull out of that and lace her comments with humor. She was in the middle of talking about Social Security when this happened:

“Now, the fact that we’ve got 23 years does not mean we should all kick back and have another Mai Tai,” Warren said, as some people in the audience laughed. “It means, though, that we got plenty of time to make the adjustments.” The laughter was building. “You’re not Mai Tai drinkers,” she said as the audience now roared into laughter. “OK, so I’m really a light beer drinker, but it sounded so weenie.” More laughter.

She was having an effect. She won over most of the people in the room, including Craig Barger, the chairman of the Easton Democratic Town Committee.

“Every time I hear you speak, you get better and better and better,” Barger told Warren.

“Good,” Warren said. “That’s what I like to hear. That’s the right direction.”

Some Behind-The-Scenes Tension

Warren has thousands of volunteers. She is raising record levels of money. But that success may be hiding some internal tensions within her organization.

Democratic political consultant Scott Ferson says this is normal in a campaign in which the stakes are so high.

“With campaigns at this level, there’s always going to be frustration,” Ferson said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm. They’re huge. Somebody doesn’t get a call returned. Somebody questions why it’s too disciplined or not nimble enough.”

Democratic political consultant Dan Payne says in races as high-profile as this one, there’s always a certain amount of tension between the local campaign and the Washington party people. In particular, the Boston people are bothered by the direction that the Washington people are pushing them in.

“Frequently what that means is they’re going to urge you to attack, attack, attack,” Payne said. “That seems to be what they look for in Washington, and if you’re not attacking all the time, they feel as though you’re not giving your all. So this has led to some tensions within the Warren campaign.”

Other political consultants report more negatives within the campaign: that it’s too cautious and that clear signals are not being given to the volunteers in the field. Ferson argues that Warren’s advisers are not letting her be herself enough.

“Always with a first-time candidate, I always like to see much more personality, give them a little bit more rope out there to go show who they truly are, and campaigns with this much at stake are going to be resultant to that,” Ferson said.

Something happened recently that illustrates this point. At a campaign event in Worcester, a reporter asked Warren about Brown’s tax returns.

“He’s been in public service for 20 years, then he should have 20 years of tax returns out,” Warren replied.

The problem is that Warren has released four years of tax returns, compared to Brown’s six years’ worth. But instead of letting Warren decide for herself whether she should take back what she said, the next day the campaign issued a statement saying Warren believes Brown has released enough tax returns.

Warren says she’s happy with the way her campaign is going.

“Sure,” Warren said. “I’m out here talking to people every single day about what’s happening to their families, what’s happening across this commonwealth. People understand the importance of this race. They understand the importance of the election in November.”

All the Democratic political operatives who spoke to WBUR do point out that it’s still summer, and there’s plenty of time for Warren to work out any kinks in her campaign.

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  • J__o__h__n

    After some recent coverage of the issues, back to the nonsense.  If this happens with every campaign, why is Warren’s being singled out.  Brown’s doesn’t appear to be flawless. 

  • http://www.savagevenus.net/ Flitzy

    She’s the *only* candidate that has actually been focused on the issues. It saddens me to think that people are actually considering more of “empty-suit” Scott Brown.

    I think there is definitely an hit of misogynistic behaviour among some of the reporting on this race – not specifically singling out NPR but across the entire local coverage from all the media outlets in New England/Massachusetts.

  • Joel Patterson

    Well, WBUR, I heard you mention this on the radio, so I went to the site to check it… and there’s not a lot of new information here.  As some of your sources say, tensions exist in high-profile campaigns, especially this one since it could make Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Majority Leader, but so what?  She is still connecting with voters, she’s still focused on making Washington prioritize middle class values over Wall Street “Cowboy” values.

  • Coolidge Ml

    I do not want any more stories from Warren, I want to hear what she actually thinks can be done and how she thinks it can be done. No more finger wagging. I know we are not electing her family BUT I actually was surprised to hear she was married! Even Warren must have a warm side.

  • Lenkard

    Wow, this is really a Huffington Post type story – nothing here, just a blazing mistleading headline to get some pageviews.  Like Joel, I came here just because of the radio promo and found NOTHING.  Really disappointed.

  • gamma

    What a waste…this is a report to be written after the election if you want to analyze the candidate’s behavior. Didn’t finish reading…

  • Benhar

    Elizabeth is great on the important issues of our times….. http://elizabethwarren.com/issues

  • GCRE

    Let’s not forget the worst campaign blunder to date…their handling of the faux Native American heritage fiasco.  If they had nipped this in the bud, it wouldnt have had such a negative impact.   

  • rockhauler

    so what’s new? every campaign has its internal tensions which often serve to moderate the extremes. haven’t we learned to  live with and accept that? however, a problem here is the dscc. in their frequent phone pleas for contributions, i have to keep telling them that my money will go directly to the candidate of my state and not to other’s, as i don’t want the national organization dictating how our campaign goes or influencing how we should vote. after reading this article, i’ll be stronger in my statement: butt out.

  • Shaun

    Warren has studied and published about the lives of real people trying to live with the harsh financial system and the ever present threat of bankruptcy from huge health care costs.  She really knows what’s happening to the middle and lower classes and she knows how the financial system has preyed on people.  Brown has no clue on most issues because he hasn’t put in the effort to understand and I doubt he will ever make that effort now that he is Senator Brown.  Unfortunately, the campaign has failed to make clear that you get knowledge and accomplishment with Warren while you get posturing and spin with Brown.

    • Cmdr_Casey_Ryback
      • Shaun

        Warren isn’t a liar even if the analysis has flaws. The critic Megan McArdle overstates her case when attacking the motivations of Warren and the coauthors. It’s an interesting article but the comments are more interesting. In particular:

         - spending on healthcare competes with spending on other things:  “The guy selling a refrigerator, car or dishwasher has to compete with Blue Shield for cash. That cannot be good for the long-term health of the economic system.” -RW- the high variability in health expenses means bankruptcy is a part of the system: “average household + extraordinary event (perhaps coupled with lost income) = problems for many people” -RW

        With national healthcare there will be zero bankruptcies from medical expenses.  You can look at the many other countries with national healthcare.

        • Cmdr_Casey_Ryback


          First, those countries are CUTTING BACK to avoid BANKRUPTCY. Duh.

          They have HIGH taxes. Duh.

          They are WEAK and USELESS. Like OweBama (D) and Bite Me (D). Duh.

  • Daniel

    I like what Warren stands for but sometimes her “speaking truth to the Man” stuff sounds made up. I find it hard to imagine a recent college graduate saying something like 
    ‘I’m here because I’m looking for a fighter’. 

  • flounder

    If I had a problem with the Warren campaign, it would be that the one time I went canvassing for them, we were directed to an upper class, very Republican neighborhood and I wasted my Saturday. Warren is not going to win by flipping upper class people from GOP, she is going to win by mobilizing her key constituencies, that traditionally have poor turnout. I should have been in a less affluent neighborhood explaining to people how important it is to turn out, or helping people get set up for absentee ballots.

  • X-Ray

    Warren says that since she heard that Social Security won’t run out of money for
    another 23 years, we don’t have to worry about it now. That kind of thinking is
    what got us here. Don’t worry about a problem until its here. It doesn’t work.
    First of all, the problem has a much shorter time frame, about 5 years.
    Secondly, a small change well in advance will avoid the problem in the future; a
    small course change now will avoid the iceberg down the line. Her priorities
    will sink Social Security.

    • Ericjbartonjr

      What got us here is a trillion dollars worth of tax cuts while buying ourselves the biggest entitlement plan since LBJ–Medicare Part D, and two wars!  It’s truly heartbreaking that we’ve still got folks like you out marching blindly, deafly, into chaos refusing to hear anything, but your own ideology.  You were denying the possibility of this finincial disaster before it happened, ignoring when it did, and are now rewriting history rather than face the consequences.  Honestly, may God have mercy on us with people like you out there voting.

  • Estengel10

    I’ve  heard/seen her in person, and she doesn’t say we should wait 23 years.  That was part of a joke she was using.  She speaks very articulately about the need to start reforming SS now, look at all the possibilities and find solutions that generate more-than-adequate funding but don’t hurt people along the way.

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