Warren Is Connecting With Voters, But Some Question Campaign Management

Download Audio
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)

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.

This program aired on August 20, 2012.

Headshot of Fred Thys

Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live