A 2nd Look At The Warren Campaign (Notes From Fans And Others)

Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Malden Senior Center, with Mayor Gary Christenson at her side, on Aug. 30. (AP)

Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Malden Senior Center, with Mayor Gary Christenson at her side, on Aug. 30. (AP)

A few days ago, I wrote what clients would recognize as a strategy paper, only this one wasn’t private. The Elizabeth Warren campaign doesn’t welcome advice from people outside its inner circle, so I decided to give voice to the concerns of many Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.

There are problems with the way Warren presents herself on TV, in ads and on the news. The people who were my source on this were overwhelmingly female. Those who read my critique — judging from the emails I received and the comments that followed my posting — said almost unanimously that I had captured what they were thinking.

Nevertheless, a few thought my comments about Warren’s apparel, eyeglasses and hair style — which comprised about 10 percent of my analysis — were sexist and not things that are said about male candidates. That may be true in the main, but I’ve seen a lot, pro and con, on Sen. Scott Brown’s barn jacket and hunky good looks. Also, the people who clued me into Warren’s style were upper middle class professional women.

Not long ago, Warren was someone Democrats were dying to see take on Brown. I was one of them. She was so popular and raised so much money in such a short period of time that four other Democratic candidates either quit the race or were knocked off the ballot.

But, oh, the unforced errors. She claimed to be intellectual foundation of the Occupy movement, without having a clue about what they would do next. She had listed herself in law school directories as part-Native American but gave conflicting accounts of it and the bad stories stretched out to a month, and the issue will come back. She demanded Brown release his tax returns when he had already made six years public while she herself had only released two years.

She’s a rookie candidate. But she has not been well-served by her campaign, which has kept her away from the news media; ironically, she had been far more accessible before she was a candidate than she is now. Brown is equally evasive, except he calls into jock radio shows to trade verbal towel snaps with the sycophantic hosts.

But Warren’s campaign continues to believe that communications doesn’t matter because they’re piggybacking on Gov. Deval Patrick’s field organization. In 2010, the governor didn’t get a majority, beating Republican Charlie Baker 49 percent to 42 percent; and independent Tim Cahill drained anti-Patrick votes from Baker.

When the state’s Democratic Party chief was asked by WBUR’s Bob Oakes about a recent poll by a Democratic-leaning firm that showed Brown ahead by five points, he said something remarkable: “That’s exactly where I want to be because we’re going to win this on the ground, face-to-face, person-to-person.” Organizing is his job, but this is a state of 4 million voters, most of whom are coming to the polls anyway to vote for president. Barack Obama will win Massachusetts by at least 20 points over Mitt Romney, our least favorite son; yet it may not help Warren because of ticket splitting.

Plenty of people, including reporters, tell me Warren is great delivering a speech in front of a live audience. People in that room have self-selected; they came to see her. At a political gathering in someone’s living room or a church basement, the speaker has time to bond with the audience, to tell stories that draw people in. In a TV ad or a soundbite on the news, you’ve got 20-some seconds to make your point and, even then, people sitting in front of their TVs may not be paying close attention.

The world is littered with politicians who could give a mean speech to a live audience but failed on TV. Some of them, who shall go nameless, have been clients of mine. Since he wasn’t a client, John Edwards was just such a speechifier. Great on the stump, super slick and untrustworthy on TV. Warren’s problem on TV is excessive intensity; she’s over the top in manner and language.

To their credit, Warren’s communications principals, admaker Mandy Grunwald and chief strategist Doug Rubin, have stopped fighting long enough to issue new TV spots. The spots are better. By a little. I’d like to say it was a result of what I wrote, but that’s nonsense.

Enough people have likened Elizabeth Warren to a scolding schoolmarm that it can be fairly said of my original critique that I did it for her own good.

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  • Brown Truncer

    Just because women are among those criticizing Warren for her appearance doesn’t mean it’s not sexist. Criticisms about how she and her campaign have responded to issues are totally legitimate but calling her a school marm or a know-it-all (as was done on 9/14 am WBUR analysis of the race) when a male who did the same thing would be hailed as well-informed is sexist, and just because lots of people are sexist doesn’t excuse it.

  • comment

    Warren’s campaign is not the question. Why is the REPUBLICAN incumbent not over the 50% mark in the polls? Don’t you find that strange?

    I believe you are playing into the media spin coming out of the Brown campaign. That media manipulation to try to undermine an outstanding candidate in Elizabeth Warren, who cannot be criticized on her main stream, pro active stands on the issues.

    Brown has looked for all of the nonsense to distract from the issues. I for one would not have even commented on your initial “window dressing” commentary, because it was not worthy of comment. Brown knows he is in trouble and is ramping up the misdirection of your focus and those in other media sources.

    Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has taken the high road and not played to constantly reminding the media, like yourself, of Brown’s missteps, misspeaks, out right distortions, and personal flaws.

    And for all those Elizabeth supporters, doing all of the hard work on the ground, keep up the good…great work!

  • Upfrontguitars

    You observation: “Enough people have likened Elizabeth Warren to a scolding schoolmarm
    that it can be fairly said of my original critique that I did it for her
    own good.” is spot-on. Being the smartest is not always appealing, and Brown is a skilled campaigner. He is capably portraying himself as an independent regardless of his voting record. To paraphrase, it’s his voting record, stupid.

  • Image Consultant



    First, thanks for lifting the lid on what you political
    strategists and analysts do. It really helps me understand the current
    political climate.


    I’m a media producer, so I think about images a lot. I’m
    also a loyal listener of your analyses on ‘BUR, so by way of payback, I’m
    offering some free advice. I’ve looked at your profile picture on the station
    website. Frankly, you could do better. The crooked smile suggests, well,
    crookedness, and do I need to point out that the Grandpa glasses are a no-no?
    The whole image is too jowly, too Larry Kingish.


    Here’s the thing: we want our commentators to speak with
    authority, so you need a certain gravitas. But this is the
    twenty-freakin’-first century, Dan! You gotta keep that gravitas lite! I’m not
    suggesting you run off for a nip and tuck, because I don’t want you to be
    somebody you aren’t. I just think that you’ve got to release your inner child
    more, and capture that child— that responsible, thoughtful, probing child— for
    the camera. Sure it’s a lot to expect of someone, but it’s no more than you
    have asked of Elizabeth Warren. And it’s just as important.

  • wareinparis
  • Jeffe68

    The bottom line here is Senator Brown is a pro at getting elected and Elizabeth Warren is clearly not. I dislike Senator Brown and will not vote for him, but nonetheless I do think Warren is going to lose because she has run one lousy campaign.

  • Ann Marie Joyce

    The issue with your analysis was you took a page right out of the Brown campaign playbook, which they have very successfully played over and over again to  all media commentators .None of you seem to stray off it or mention the absence of any substantive policy stands. That”s how  they want it —  all  about style and no substance.

    I think the Warren campaign should take a page out of Romney’s book and pile on what a nice guy he is but what, if anything, is he doing for Massachusetts and when will he ever really standup to the Republican base. The co-sponsor of the  Blunt amendment is not likely to part company if, God forbid, Romney wins and starts stacking the Supreme Court with ultra conservatives.
    Ann Marie JoyceBraintree, MA

  • MShribman

    Warren may have a popular message, but her insistence on sticking to  her original lie makes her appear to be mentally ill. She should have simply said that she thought she was, but was apparently wrong and that she meant no insult to Native Americans. Instead, she dug deeper. That was so severely mishandled that it has destroyed her chances with independent voters.

    • comment

       You should do your research before commenting. If you only look at the distortions coming from REPUBLICANS and specifically the campaign of REPUBLICAN Scott Brown, then of course you would not know the truth.

    • isobel

       I’m curious: what makes you think Warren was wrong?  I have many Indian friends (Indian is the word they use for themselves), including some from Oklahoma, where I’ve spent time, and many of them “know” only through family traditions and high probability in their regions.  The government worked to keep native people from knowing their identities earlier in the 20th century–sending Indian children away, for instance, to be adopted and raised by white parents who hid their ancestry from them.  Warren’s home state of Oklahoma has a particularly rich and tragic Native American history.  There are 67 tribes in Oklahoma, of which 39 are federally recognized, and 25 Indian languages spoken.  A little study of the history involved makes it clearer why it’s difficult to trace genealogies, and in some cases even to get federal recognition of a tribe.  Here’s a view on the subject from Oklahoma:  http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0512/75960.html

  • isobel

    The original article was biased, sexist and unclear: I couldn’t figure out what the complaints were, beyond rhetorical manipulation.  I guessed the author was hurt that the Warren campaign hadn’t enlisted
    the services of his advertising company, which has created ads for other
    MA candidates in the past.  But this defensive–and offensive– response to comments the author simultaneously claims didn’t really exist (the responses, he claims “almost unanimously” agreed with him) is weirdly thin-skinned.  If you throw stones, you have to expect at least some pebbles in return!  He says that his sources were “overwhelmingly” (!) female.  They just didn’t include any women I know or work with or encounter doing errands, all of whom, Warren fans or no, are mystified and annoyed by the barrage of insinuations about Warren’s style, glasses, jackets, and day job.  Might the media get back to covering her and her opponent’s positions and her goals in the  Senate?  Or is that too boring?

  • JR Getsinger

    I believe your opinion is right on the money. I visited Warren campaign HQ in Somerville to volunteer when it was first set up, but they had nobody there who could deal with an experienced campaign volunteer and frankly? they still don’t. After months of “can you work tomorrow?” when my day job requires a couple of days of notice, I finally got to do some canvassing last weekend for Elizabeth, door to door. Afterward nobody debriefed me on what people said because there was no interest in anything but the paperwork. People? Politics is people, not a video game.  

    I happen to believe that Elizabeth Warren has great ideas and is fighting the good fight. Her opponent is a really nice guy who’s short on foresight and who will go along to get along. But that’s not good enough for her to get elected.

    Elizabeth, if you really want to get elected, out here in the real world, you will need to come out of hiding from behind the professionally produced messages you only approve and get out here and talk with real people. This “nobody gets to talk with Elizabeth without pledging $500 first” policy, is this the real you? I don’t think so. I think you’re being used. Get out there and listen for a change.

  • J Hsia

    Agree that previous TV spots have been woefully inadequate — railing at the situation in Washington, but saying nothing about what she would do to change that, or, more to the point, why one should vote for her.  Now we are told that she would fight for the middle class — all well and good, but that is a claim that could be made by anyone.  The “nice guy/nice gal(?) route will get her nowhere.. Brown has already staked out his position there. 
    What’s left is their respective positions on the issues.  We need to preserve/increase  the slim majority in the Senate who support Obama and his program, and (wishful thinking) make it filibuster proof.  While Brown has broken with the Republicans on a few occasions, he has not on the important issues, and that point needs to be made, and those issues listed.  

  • aronsbarron

    Dan, You’re right on target.  The new ads are a little better.  As one of those who has written about what she projects and how that negatively affects the import of her message, I am hopeful that the campaign will continue evolving.  The debate on Thursday the 20th should say a lot about whether she can capitalize on the promise that she offered a year ago.

  • Jon Hite

    isobel: I’ll ask the same question I posed to Dan (and I guess I’ll have to live with being called a sexist for asking it): Close your eyes and try to imagine Eliz. Warren drinking a can of Bud. She may be for us, but is she one of us?

    • Paul Spirn

      Voter identification concerning the candidate is critical in choosing a candidate, but that doesn’t mean people vote for candidates who are most like themselves.  How could Ted Kennedy have been elected on that basis?   I think the identification mechanism works differently.   The voter chooses a candidate  saying to himself, “I am the kind of person who votes for a candidate like so and so.”  That means the voter who likes to think of HIMSELF as canny at recognizing smart people, or valuing a strict morality, or empathetic with the underdog will be strongly influenced by that sentiment.  Even so, that SELF identification may not be enough to overwhelm other factors.  Sometimes these are rational–which candidate is going to work for my economic interests or social stratum?  Others are psychological–her school marm voice, or his phony, jock jauntiness, make my skin crawl.  In this case, the extraordinarily accomplished, upwardly mobile Elizabeth Warren isn’t like most of us.   She is smarter and she has more social empathy.  Her first challenge,  is to present those qualities in a fashion that doesn’t       play into unfavorable sterotyping.  Her second challenge is to make it clear that her opponent has qualities that most voters just cannot accept–the core of his voting record is at such variance with his self-characterized independence, and so unfavorable to the real interests of the middle class he purports to represent, that he is untrustworthy, a phony, not the salt of the earth guy he claims to be.  Good luck to her.

  • Burnsan

    Yes, the ads have gotten somewhat better. Yet, she needs to strike back more quickly. Scot Brown claims to have come from nothing. Does that really matter? We all know people who came from nothing and as soon as they got “two nickels to rub together” forgot , at least by their actions, where they actually came from. He grew up, put an R beside his name and votes with and is supported by those who favor big money. Ted Kennedy grew up in privilege, but put a D beside his name, and fought for the common man. Why do you suppose Fidelity, Goldman,etc. gives Brown so much money? Could it be because he will vote with the other Republicans to relax their standards?????
    Take the sexist issue out of it. Elizabeth needs to talk more often about why Sen. Brown never mentions the R, calls himself an independent voice, but votes with the other Rs on issues that count, as I have heard her do on occasion. I agree with J.Hsia, she needs to list those issues.

    Deidre B.

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