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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.
This program aired on September 14, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.
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