What's Wrong With The Warren Campaign

Elizabeth Warren continues to raise huge sums of money, a lot of it from outside Massachusetts. But when the money gets here, it supports a plodding, low-wattage, organizational campaign that can’t figure out how to present the candidate, seems unable to communicate, ducks the news media, and produces generic TV spots.

A preference cascade occurs when you think that you’re the only one who believes something only to discover that lots of people share your view. That’s what’s happening to women and the Warren campaign. In my (small) sample of well-educated Democratic and independent women, they are realizing they’re not alone in being turned off by the Warren campaign. Demographically she’s one of them, but politically she’s losing them. They say they won’t vote for Sen. Scott Brown, but Warren and her hectoring, know-it-all style leaves them deeply disappointed. What happened to that warrior against Wall Street, the woman who was so full of promise before she started to run?

Democrat Elizabeth Warren speaks to reporters after a tour of the Lexington Fire Department Monday. (AP)

Elizabeth Warren speaks to reporters after a tour of the Lexington Fire Department Monday. (AP)

Close but no cigar. Recent partisan polls show that Brown is up from 1 to 5 points. The Huffington Post, which charts all publicly available polls, shows Brown ahead by less than 4 points. But with a GOP convention so Neanderthalish that Brown hid out, and with President Obama on his way to a 20-point win in the state, Warren should be smoking Brown.

It’s no longer early. She may be a rookie but she’s been a candidate for nearly a year. There are fewer than 60 days before the general election. Millions of dollars in ads are about to take control of our TV sets. She and her handlers have got to fix her act and find a way to take on Brown that is credible and sustainable. Right now, all she does in her ads is complain about national problems, as if she’s running for president. Her ads aren’t grounded in Massachusetts, which is a problem because she’s not well-known here.

Yeah, it’s just like high school. In politics how you dress and act defines you socially. You hear words like “preachy” or “lawyer-like” to describe how she comes across on TV. For a long while it seemed as if she wore the same red jacket pretty much 24 hours a day. She always seems annoyed, impatient that people don’t know how right she is. She’s got to stop the finger wagging; it adds to her strict schoolmarm appearance and bossy manner. At last week’s Democratic convention, when the delegates kept applauding, she shushed them with “Enough, enough!” as if the delegates were her pupils.

Lose the granny glasses; they’re 40 years late and add about 10 years to her age on TV. Soften the hair; the Page Boy haircut makes her seem joylessly practical. Coaching can deepen her voice, which grates on some, and make her seem less strident. With all the money she’s raised, she can afford the best coaches.

Even Clinton got coaching. In a 1992 debate between Bill Clinton and the elder George Bush, when a young woman asked a question, Clinton left his stool and walked over to her. Standing right in front of her, he talked to her like she was the only one in the room. The move had been rehearsed; the campaign’s debate coach suggested what he called “the stroll.” Even Clinton, the master of connecting, got a tip from a professional.

Her vocabulary is coarse in an apparent attempt to avoid sounding like a Harvard professor. Small business owners are “busting their tails,” she says in a new ad. At the convention, she tried to convey toughness, with words like “rigged,” “hammered,” “wrecked” and “corrosive.” Later she asked, “Anyone here have a problem with that?” Not at all clear to me that toughness is what she needs. A little modesty perhaps?

Her family is missing. While Brown’s adult daughters and his wife are part of his campaign, Warren’s family is nowhere to be seen. When you’re trying to beat a popular incumbent and nobody knows you, you bring everything you’ve got.

TV spots are the campaign. The bulk of voters don’t go to rallies or follow the campaign in the news. To them TV spots are the campaign. I agree with my GOP sparring partner, Todd Domke, that Brown’s TV spots are much better than hers. His are unique to him; hers look like they were stamped out in a D.C. media factory. Brown’s are more organic, they’re about real people not statistics. Hers are boilerplate stuff that could be made for any Democrat running for Senate anywhere in America. Even if she’s great on the stump, it doesn’t follow that she’s should do all the talking on TV.

Brown’s no moderate. As Barney Frank pointed out, Brown benefits from appearing to be an island of moderation in a sea of right-wing lunacy. Some people in Massachusetts like to think that moderate Republicans are nearly extinct but lucky for us we have one! Brown’s only a moderate when compared to GOP nuts like Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. Brown quickly condemned Akin and called for him to quit the race, beating Warren to the punch by several hours. But, if he goes back to the Senate, Brown will vote for and with Republican leaders for six long years.

Tribal warfare. She and her campaign were unable to shut off questions this spring about her Cherokee heritage and it cost her a month’s worth of news coverage. Native Americans tried to meet with her in Boston but she declined. At last week’s Democratic convention, they again tried to meet with her; she again refused. Like the Indiana strikers who dogged Mitt Romney in his race against Ted Kennedy, this ain’t over; it’s coming back this fall in debates and TV spots.

It’s not about getting out the vote, it’s about getting voters to like her. Piggybacking on Gov. Deval Patrick’s field organization might add a point or two to her total. Yes, that could be enough to win, but voters are coming to the polls anyway to vote for president. Organizing for Election Day is superfluous if voters don’t like the candidate.

Obama may not be able to save her. Talking to political people, I find nearly all believe Brown will win. Massachusetts voters like to create balance by voting for a candidate of one party for executive office and the other party for the legislative office. Happens all the time.

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  • Marjorie Arons-Barron

    Dan, You nailed it. (oops, Elizabeth Warren-style tough language. Read, your analysis was right on target.  See my blog on same, entitled “Loosen up, Lizzie”    at    http://marjoriearonsbarron.com/2012/09/06/loosen-up-lizzie/.

    • Mike_ellis7

      She lost me when she lied about her native american heritage.
          I have read most of the stories on this subject. It is pretty obvious she tried to gain an unfair advantage in furthering her career.  She should have dropped out of the race once she became exposed. 

          If Brown had been caught doing something akin to this, he would have faced a neverending  attack from this station as well as the Globe.

  • Circusmcgurkus

    The truth is that she is a terrible candidate with horrible handlers who made poor decisions from day one (including never responding to emails and communications, not setting up a physical office, not asking people for anything more than their stories to use in speeches.)  It was top-down all the way; her stump speech has not changed and it is really, really bad. 

    Anyone who read her books (written with her daughter who, again, is absent) can see a thoughtful, interesting, nuanced person who came to her conclusions about consumer protection, the costs of delaying bankruptcy protection and the mistke of making bankruptcy protection harder to file – after years of research which dispelled her original (much more finger wagging) ideas. 

    That is, her research surprised her and made her think differently.  That should have been the argument for her from day one.  It is a winner – stop treating the voters like idiots; present them with real numbers, real information, tell them why you believe what you believe and then ask them to make a decision.

    She is not a populist but she is trying to use populist language.  Massachusetts Democrats insisted on succumbing to hero-worship and the opinion of embittered outsiders who could not nominate Warren to head the agency the created because the nomination would have failed so outsiders pushed to nominate her to go to the Senate.

    Warren really has no skin in the game.  She has tenure at Harvard; if she loses, she goes back to teaching, maybe with a larger audience to read her next book.  Warren will do just fine if she loses.  But, Massachusetts should be kicking itself for choosing her over DeFranco.

  • Ballyvaughan

    And she’s in a dead heat with the incumbent.

  • http://twitter.com/Yeldemo Ms.Medd

    I think she needs more common people to speak with her. The Patrick idea is no good, he is not good to or with the Black population in MA. The difference with Brown…he’s an opportunist, he doesn’t care about any one but who will get him to his goals, but he fakes it well. Even down to writing his book is a part of the strategy. I hear from women that they don’t get Warrens message but when I summarize her mission many tell me why can’t she get the simple inf. I gave them out. (many think Obama has this problem) I get it. But her intention is superior to her ego.

  • hfhfhfhhrhfhhrhgrgrbcrkr

    She really  needs some  new  rhetoric.  Every  time  I  hear her stock phrase “working families are being hammered”  I  want to  scream!  

    Here’s hoping a Warren staffer reads  this and  takes it to heart.

  • Christie Mayo

    “Scott Brown and the Republicans are doubling down on policies that will hurt seniors, make it tougher for families to educate their children, and leave small businesses struggling,” Ms. Warren said in a statement. “The Republican vision of the future is tax breaks for billionaires and repeal of reforms for Wall Street.”   I know a lot of MA Democratic and Independent women and they are very enthusiastic about her. They turned out in very large numbers in the Marlborough Labor Day parade.                                                           

  • n w

    As a member of the senate, she would need to vote on a lot of issues other than economic ones.  I’m disappointed that her campaign doesn’t address broader issues.

  • Amber Nine

    I really hope she can keep her nodding head still. I makes her look frenzied and it makes me nervous for her.

  • Marsha Finkelstein

    I met her in May and had the opportunity to talk with her briefly. Although I’m as liberal as they come, I was left feeling like this woman just can’t connect.  It was very disheartening.  As a delegate to the state convention in MA, I ended up supporting Marisa DeFranco’s failed attempt to get enough delegate votes to get on the Democratic ballot in last week’s primary.  If Elizabeth Warren’s gonna make this happen, she’s gotta listen to the feedback and get her act together.  As I said to her that May day, my concern was how she was going to get the moderate unenrolleds to vote for her.  She really didn’t have an answer to that question and now I’m worried big time that we’re stuck with Scott Brown.

  • Jim Smith

    Jim Smith

    Dan is exactly right. Please lose the national campaign types and localize the campaign. And whoever is doing ads should never again be allowed near a campaign. They are awful. Humanize her! Show us the family and the family dog.  Have some other folks talk on the ads. Change the camera angle.  Good grief just do something, anything, but don’t destroy an exceptional candidate with  an exceptionally poor campaign.

  • Mackinnontalbot

    I e mailed warrens campaign the first day their web site went up. I told them she was running against a supermodel (and centerfold) and, unfair as it may be, she needed to buff up her image (brown is like lady di – you cannot take a bad picture of the guy). I suggested new glasses, new hair do, wardrobe makeover. I even gave them the name of a professional image consultant that worked with a fortune 500 executive friend of mine. They never acknowledged the email, and they clearly never took my advice. I ll vote for warren because she is smarter, more creative, and cares more about what I care about ( with more women in the senate we would not be debating birth control). Brown will be a disaster. He is not smart enoughtand does not have the interest of the common person at heart. He is caught up in his own image As are we.

  • Paul Spirn

    Having tried with little success to influence the Warren campaign, I too hope that they read these comments carefully.  With the exception of one writer’s criticism of her stump speech–I have heard several variations of it, and all were good, whether stressing her compelling personal story, or laying out why public disinvestment hurts the middle class most–they reflect the frustration that a good candidate may be undone by a poorly focused and plodding campaign; the suggestions I read are worth heeding.  It has been clear that if Scott Brown is allowed to occupy the middle, portraying himself as a likable, barn-coated moderate, Warren will be lucky to beat him.  I don’t see that he has anything else going for him, but that will be enough.  Warren must deconstruct that image, in every ad, in every statement, in every speech, and she has not tried to do that at all.  She can do that by showing he is not the person–the moderate, the independent–he claims to be, and that makes him untrustworthy.   She can do it pointing to a half dozen of his key votes in the Senate and his promise to repeal Obamacare, but she must make it clear that this “He’s for us” rhetoric is hogwash designed cynically to mislead the voters.  Massachusetts cannot trust him.  And she can do it humorously.  For example, after those effective testimonials from his wife thanking him for his support at home while she worked, Warren should have said that she applauds men like Brown and her own husband who know what it takes for two wage earners to advance their careers and have a successful marriage, BUT she wishes he had equal respect for all the women HE ISN”T MARRIED TO instead of voting against equal pay for women and for the privilege of employers to exclude health benefits for women in their health plans.  But she must do it, and do it now.         

  • travis

    This is exactly what is wrong with our current system, so far removed from basic democratic principles and issue-based voting. ‘Get New Glasses’?! ‘Soften the Hair’?! Why sentiments such as these receive more press and airtime than any serious compare/contrast of the issues the candidates stand for is indicative of just how much of a role the media plays in this current, sorry state of affairs. Of course, pundits and those in the political industry have a vested interest at keeping the debate so vapid, so superficial, to the severe determent of the voter who is trying to inform himself. NPR is no exception. Shame on you guys for perpetuating such a laughable, ridiculous system that we currently have.

    • Vesspah

      Good Lord, Travis, do you know anything at all about American political history? Are you not aware that such admittedly superficial things as granny glasses, clothing, family life, and what one eats have been part of political campaigns from the beginning of our Republic? Have you ever heard of Abe Lincoln, the rail splitter? What did splitting rails have to do with the fact that our nation was quite literally falling apart? Of course you are right that the focus should be on issues. But appearances, image, matter. If they didn’t, John F. Kennedy would have lost the 1960 Presidential election – which he only won by stealing votes in Texas and Illinois anyway, because virtually everyone agrees that Nixon beat him solidly in the debates, but lost the election because JFK was far more telegenic.

    • aronsbarron

      In the best of all worlds, appearance wouldn’t matter….at least not as much.  But studies have consistently shown that only 7 percent of what we communicate comes from the substance, 38 percent is voice and 55 percent is body language, including appearance.  That means that fully 93 percent of the impression the candidate creates is other than meaning. This is probably particularly true when it comes to undecideds and independents. Like it or not, the campaign had  better start responding at that level or she’s going down.

  • Vesspah

    The advice to localize the campaign is 180 degrees off base – she needs to run against the radical right national GOP and constantly remind people that Scott Brown is part of it. She needs to tell people that Scott Brown is a nice guy with a dirty secret – he’s a Republican, and a vote for Scott Brown is a vote for Mitch McConnel and a Republican controlled Senate – and a Supreme Court packed with Scalias, Aliotos, and Thomases. She needs to tell people that Scott Brown is a Mitch McConnel puppet, voting with the radical right, Medicare-killing GOP x percentage of the time. And yes, she needs to lose the damn granny glasses. And she needs to do all of that immediately!

  • Mike_Card

    She’ll lose for the same reason Coakly lost–she just doesn’t come across as being that interested in winning.

    • J__o__h__n

      Not true.  Warren is campaigning.  She isn’t acting like she is entitled to it.

  • Ccrm10

    I like Brown. He is down to earth and real.

    • notfooled

      Yes, he is a ‘real’ politician opposing Obamacare while benefiting from it by keeping his oldest daughter on his health insurance.  He and his wife made over a half-million dollars last year.  They don’t care about regular people who don’t make as much as them.  They can afford to subsidize their daughter’s singing dreams.  It is a relief to see that all that private education paid off.

  • KBP

    Spot on, Dan.  I had the opportunity to meet Professor Warren and hear her speak on a few occasions prior to her campaign and I found her to be smart, warm and engaging.  I would not use any of those words to describe Candidate Warren.   Professor Warren told a compelling story about her own background and the future of the middle class.  Candidate Warren comes across as a spinsterly librarian who is about to tell me to shush.  The picture with this essay is so unusual because it shows Warren smiling.  I wish the campaign would show more of her personality.

  • judiann1

    Elizabeth Warren said,  “Corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters, because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.” 

    She looks OK to me. We need a government full of people like Elizabeth not an actress with a shiny veneer.  We have a Congress full of these things.

    • ekaneti

      If corporations aren’t people, then I guess they can’t be greedy.

      • Octavion

        …nor can they be evil.

      • Judiann1

        Corporations are an entity made up of many people. The laws have been changed or manipulated and garbled to the point that these greedy conglomerates cannot be held responsible for mass murder. Individuals but not corporations? They want corporate “personhood”; I say let’s give it to them right where it  hurts. Total accountability, pluck the greedy pigs out one by one or stuff it to the fattest pig.   I’m aware this sounds like a great generalization and if the shoe fits let them wear it.  Corporations are not held responsible as individuals and I’m sure you understand the woman”s point here, if not check out “corporate personhood”.

  • bethbrady

    The woman is a liar. She is lucky she is still in the conversation. Only in Massachusetts.

    • blucat2000

      Ok I’ll bite, what did she lie about? 

      On the campaign, she seems to be running “nationally”, Brown is running “locally” and it’s working. Everyone is buying his little pick-up truck-anti big goverment-regular guy stuff. Brown is staying away from Obama and Warren is shooting at Mitt. She needs to get local and explain the differences between her and Scott. Not her and Mitt. Otherwise Scott will be back in power and tying his horse to the GOP wagon train as planned and financed. 

  • Chris

    I met Elizabeth Warren and contributed to her campaign.  She is an outstanding individual.  It is critical that she win for many reasons especially to prevent the Republican Party from taking over the U.S. Senate.   The poll numbers tell us loud and clear that her campaign is not working.  I agree with the list above and I hope she seriously considers making the recommended changes.    

  • J__o__h__n

    The media need to focus on the issues instead of being distracted by nonsense like her heritage.  While her campaign style can use many of the improvements listed here, voters and the press have to question how Scott Brown will vote with the Republicans on all but a few issues instead of letting him merely be shown at photo ops being a regular guy. 

    I personally like Brown, but will not be voting for him as it is a vote for Mitch McConnell’s national Republican agenda.  How effective was Brown’s letter asking the Republicans to change their prolife platform that doesn’t make an exception for rape victims? 

    • ekaneti

      Her heritage is an issue. It goes straight to her lack of character.

  • http://twitter.com/MrRural Matt L. Barron

    Spot on Dan. She said in Oct. 2011 she wants to win the “hick vote” but can’t bring herself to spend a day in rural Mass learning the issues that affect 9.2% of the Commonwealth that lives in the boondocks. Does she even know about closing the digital divide or that we have a thriving agriculture sector out in the hinterlands. More elitist than populist.

  • ekaneti

    Mass has a history of rejecting elitist arrogant liberals from academia. Robert Reich and Paul Silber come to mind as two neophytes who ran and lost as democrats in one of the most democrat states.

    • billfromboston

      I think you mean John Silber, who was no liberal. Indeed, he was defeated by a far more liberal Republican, Bill Weld. Reich, meanwhile, lost the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2002 to the equally liberal Shannon O’Brien.

      And by “elitist,” you seem to mean “someone who values education” and who devotes years to it. I call that an “educator.” 

      But, wow, yes, slam dunk to you!Finally, to your frail grasp on the English language: you need to use the form “Democratic” in your sentence–capital D and the adjectival form, not the noun form. God bless you, though, for trying.  I do know the way you form it has some triple-secret extra special meaning for Republicans and is the ultimate diss. Do you have a special handshake that goes with that?Thanks for playing!

  • Voice in the wind

    She’s an academic egghead with a dirty mouth.  No leadership ability whatsoever.

  • http://masspoliticsprofs.com/ Maurice Cunningham

    Here’s another view from Prof. Cunningham at MassPoliticsProfs.com that disputes Pretty much the entirety of Dan Payne’s argument: http://www.masspoliticsprofs.com/2012/09/13/dems-on-warren-the-sky-is-falling-the-sequel/ 

  • billfromboston

    Her choice in glasses and a jacket. Yes, exactly, these are the kinds of things I think about when I am voting for a US Senator.

    Just like Senator Brown’s coat won last time.

    Does the author imagine people are this superficial? Or is he the only superficial one around here? Time for a new class of political pundits.

  • Vicki

    If you want your candidate to win, you have to be willing to look honestly at whatever holds her back, no matter how you feel about it.  Elizabeth Warren is, by all rational criteria, the best candidate to represent Massachusetts (no, not just the “liberal elite”) in the Senate.  She has proven her ability to be tough and effective in setting up the new consumer protection agency in DC against tremendous political opposition. She is not only very very smart, she is committed, and dogged in pursuing successful action to solve serious problems that face “average” Americans, and her entire career has been focused upon that. She has never been a politician, and that shows now–of course she has people who attempt to “package” her, but so does Scott Brown: his people just do a better job of it. Research has shown that many voters are swayed by public opinion polls, and tend to throw their votes behind the candidate they think is going to win (sorry to all of you who prefer to focus on how YOU want your candidate to appear, instead of thinking critically about what will move a potential voter to vote for or against her). Time’s awastin’, as they say, and those of us who support Elizabeth Warren for all the right reasons need to move to represent her to the voting public in a way that will show them that she is a good, strong, smart, and effective person, who will ably and reliably represent their best interests on every vote, not just the ones that are politically advantageous to her personally.

    So bring ALL constructive criticism, and let’s consider it, in case it contains something that might really help propel our candidate to victory in November.

  • Barbara

    Right on. I’m with her political positions all the way. But I have to say: GET A NEW HAIRDO! This seems incredibly trivial, but it’s not. Everyone has an “identity kit,” a roster of clues that others use to “place’ a person in society.  Unfortunately, hers includes some rather unattractive visual cues. These can be fixed easily. Attractive people are more appealing to others. There’s no reason why these superficial signals have to put this great candidate at a disadvantage. Fix them – especially the hair!

  • Ed Meek

    I couldn’t agree more! I am a supporter of Warren and want a Democrat in the Senate but her ads are awful. She needs to change her appearance and in ads must tell us what she will do for us. Joan Venocci wrote a solid piece in The Boston Globe outlining Warren’s platform. Warren needs to sell it to us!

    • Judiann1

      I’m already sold! The corporate greed and atrocious crimes against humanity and the planet did it for me long ago. Pretty hair styles are purely subjective that’s why many do it differently and then of course, there are those that do as the crowd does.

  • Holden Caulfield

    It’s very simple.  Ask yourself about Warren the alleged fighter for the middle class.  With the power, prestige and money available to a Harvard Professor, if she is such a fighter for consumers, where is the legal clinic she started for them?  Where are the hundreds of hours of pro bono hours or participation in civil rights actions across the decades?  Where is the actual, elbow grease action on her part that didn’t serve to augment her pocket book or her media image?  When has she ever put herself on the line and taken a hit in her salary to stand up for the little guy?   Fight is a verb and requires actual risk and sacrifice.  And by the way, doesn’t the working class deserve some advocacy too?  After all, they are the ones doing the physical labor that underpins all the sectors of business in this country. 

    • Judiann1

      She’s not doing this? Anyone that takes a stand against corporate rule has put much on the line. Now, go outside, look up,  take a deep breath and don’t forget your face mask.  That crap is not your vitamins!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DI7KEOIY55OCFZJVTJIJWE77Z4 Cmmdr Adama

      Smart guy, do me a favor and Google “consumer protection financial bureau” and $200M Discovery Card fine.  Read up on who thunk up the CPFB … then enjoy your meal of crow

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rebecca-Fine/100002306266703 Rebecca Fine

    The fact that Massachusetts voted for both Romney AND Brown shows that the state is not as progressive or as intelligent as it would like to think.  Don’t the voters in MA realize that by voting for Brown they are supporting the Republican agenda and are voting for a Republican MAJORITY in the Senate?  And don’t they realize that Brown votes with the Republicans 90% of the time and voted against Wall Street reform in order to protect his Wall Street friends?

    • calcman10

       You prove one of the author’s points – “the state is not as progressive or as intelligent…”   The author uses “…impatient with people who don’t know how right she is”.  If only we were all as smart as you and Elizabeth Warren the world would be so much better, huh?

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DI7KEOIY55OCFZJVTJIJWE77Z4 Cmmdr Adama

        I think you are on to something

  • Jon Hite

    Dan: Close your eyes and try to imagine Eliz. Warren drinking a can of Bud. That’s one problem.

  • tamerlane

    Trying to turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse.  That EW would be a disaster was evident long ago to anyone immune to speech-induced leg tingles.  Dems shoulda run Marisa DeFranco.

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