Negative Press On Warren's Heritage Ineffectual

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Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren (AP)
Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Elizabeth Warren (AP)

Rep. Barney Frank, who had been attacked and had his words twisted by the Boston Herald, announced after his 2010 election that it demonstrated the “complete political irrelevance of the Boston Herald.” He was referring to his 11-point margin over a Republican who got blanket-warm and snuggly coverage from the Herald.

So it comes as no surprise that the Herald’s drumbeat (pun intended) on Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s heritage was ineffectual. According to a new Suffolk University/Channel 7 poll, she has gained strength, now trailing Scott Brown 47 percent to his 48 percent*. This is an eight-point slide from a February Suffolk poll that showed Brown ahead by nine points.

For nearly a month, the Herald has pounded Warren on its front page, news pages, columns, editorials and op-ed columns; they may have attacked her in the crossword puzzle, but I didn’t check. Day after day they found ways to question, criticize and challenge her Native American bloodline. As a result, the poll found nearly three-quarters of voters were aware of the controversy, but among those, half believed she was being honest, a quarter weren’t sure, and only another quarter thought she wasn’t telling the truth.

Furthermore, the poll showed that 45 percent said she did not benefit from being listed as a minority, while 41 percent believed that she did. (When exactly did it become an advantage in America to be a member of a minority?) Most important, 69 percent said her heritage listing was not a significant story, while 27 percent said that it was — a ratio that means a lot of trees died needlessly.

The Boston Globe, playing catchup, decided to join the pack in a long, long story on Warren and Harvard. That piece seems to say that Warren could have known that Harvard was listing her as a Native American had she been checking the university’s filings with the U.S. Labor Department or reading various Harvard publications. Harvard’s affirmative action filings were made by a man who is himself part Native American, but who, like Warren, has fair skin and blue eyes. This “revelation” adds nothing to whether she would make a good U.S. senator.

Also perplexing is why the Boston TV and radio stations swarmed around Warren, shouting “Are you an Indian?” Actually, she says she is! But she also proposed keeping leaders of big Wall Street banks, like JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, off regional offices of the Federal Reserve, which is supposed to oversee banks like Dimon’s.

Warren has finally and correctly decided not to comment on her heritage, a perfectly legitimate way to end a meaningless conversation that a small number of reporters found irresistible. Don’t worry, they’ll find something else, while they complain that candidates “don’t talk issues.”

The poll also showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney 59 percent to 34 percent in this, one of Romney’s many home states, but one where he ruled and profited... and didn’t do diddly to create jobs.

While Obama may boost Warren’s chances, Brown remains considerably more popular than she is, 58 percent to 43 percent for Warren, while his unfavorable rating is 28 percent compared to her 33 percent. As I’ve said before, she simply must not allow this campaign to become a popularity contest. He naturally comes across as “a good guy.”

Brown also benefits from the proposition that the state would be better off with a Republican as well as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate. And he’s an incumbent at a time when voters, by a nearly 3-1 ratio, believe the state is going in the right direction.

Correction: An earlier version of this commentary incorrectly reported the poll's results as saying Warren was ahead by 1 percentage point. In fact, the poll found Brown up 1 point.

This program aired on May 25, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Dan Payne Twitter Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.