Another Massachusetts meltdown?

Elizabeth Warren's recent struggles have some Democratic operatives worried about a Martha Coakley redux

Topics: Elizabeth Warren, Scott Brown, Martha Coakley,

Another Massachusetts meltdown?(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The story about Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage refuses to die. Today, state Republicans are calling on Harvard to investigate whether Warren used her Native American status to land her teaching post. Some Democrats, haunted by the infamous meltdown of Martha Coakley against Scott Brown two years ago, are wondering if it’s déjà vu all over again.

“The people in Washington are saying, ‘The people in Massachusetts are a bunch of fuck-ups who couldn’t run a race for dog catcher,’” said one veteran Massachusetts Democratic insider. “This is someone they handpicked, filled the coffers with millions and millions of dollars, made it their number one race, and the people who are up here running it with every resource you would ever want are getting killed.”

The Boston Herald broke the story April 27 that Harvard touted Warren’s Indian ancestry, and it’s been downhill since for the Senate hopeful. A genealogist has suggested Warren is 1/32 Native American, although the campaign has not provided documents backing her claim. Warren spoke in one interview of grandparents with “high-cheekbones.”

Joe Trippi, the prominent Democratic consultant, said the response to the initial stories raised questions in the nation’s capital about the campaign’s readiness to deal with a dangerous foe.

“There is a question about why they weren’t prepared,” Trippi said. “This happening in May is a wake-up call. They have to be ready for a much tougher fight than they envisioned.”

Warren should have expected such attacks: Brown’s chief strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, is famous for confrontational tactics. “It’s great to be out there trying to make a case for working people, but the other side is not going to let you do that — Fehrnstrom doesn’t work that way,” Trippi said. “He’s going to try and make it into a knife fight. You have to be ready to make the process case and fight back.”

There’s a growing concern that Warren’s campaign has been too passive in its clashes with Brown, indeed that they’ve been too one-sided.

Dan Payne, a veteran Democratic consultant based in Boston, said the non-handling of the Native American question is part of a larger problem that has plagued the presumptive Democratic nominee.



“There are a finite number of weeks a candidate has to beat a popular incumbent,” Payne said. “If you spend a week on your Indian heritage and a week on tax returns, you’re not making the case against the incumbent. That’s the problem. The Warren camp has been made the incumbent and Brown has been made the challenger. It’s been a role reversal.”

Democrats don’t like to use the “C” word — Coakley. But Payne said, like Coakley, who didn’t understand she needed to shake hands outside a chilly Fenway Park, Warren doesn’t seem to know what to do with Brown.

For instance, Brown got free media showing he hit a half-court basketball shot – even though he needed several tries. The shot builds on his regular guy image, which neutralizes Warren’s arguments she stands up for the regular guy, Payne said. Yet, you never heard Warren ever smack him down.

“So far, Warren has shown an inability to deal with Brown’s use of symbols,” Payne said.

Warren’s chief strategist is Doug Rubin, who masterminded Gov. Deval Patrick’s two improbable victories – both based on positive campaigning and avoiding negative attacks. Fehrnstrom, meanwhile, gets out of bed thinking how to attack, said Payne.

Even before Warren entered the race, Fehrnstrom anonymously tweeted as Crazy Khazei, lobbing broadsides aimed at her while disguised as a loony version of another Democratic rival, Alan Khazei – until he was unmasked.

“It’s been very mean and it’s only going to get meaner,” said Michael Shea, a Democratic consultant. “They’ve raised $30 million and it’s not going toward positive ads, and it’s only just begun.”

There’s no doubt the Senate race is going to be nasty. It’s had a negative tone from Day One, when Brown – in response to a joke Warren made about him paying for college by posing nude – quipped on a radio show he was glad the 52-year-old hadn’t done the same.

The Native American story may appear an isolated one but it’s part of Brown’s strategy to craft a narrative about the first-time candidate, said Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the department of political scientist at Stonehill College.

“You do that by raising questions about who she said she is and hold up who is in tune with average voters and is more like average voters,” Ubertaccio said.

In a statement, Warren’s campaign said:

Elizabeth has been straightforward and open about her heritage while the people who recruited her have made it clear it was because of her extraordinary skill as a teacher and a groundbreaking scholar. Scott Brown has been peddling nasty insinuations to distract from his million-dollar tax returns and multi-million dollar Wall Street fundraising. We’re getting back to the issues that really matter in this election, like how to level the playing field for middle class families.”

Democrats aren’t giving up on Warren.

Washington has tried to bolster Warren, Payne said. For instance, the president is signaling his support by appearing in an ad with Warren running on television stations statewide.

Trippi noted that while the Republicans drag out the story about her native roots, Warren’s campaign continues to show positive signs – and it’s only May.

“[Brown] scored,” Trippi said. “But she’s raising money, she has a very strong message, and the people know she’s fighting for the working people of Massachusetts.”

But Brown isn’t giving up either.

“Scott Brown takes this very seriously,” the Democratic insider cautioned. “This is control of the United States Senate. This is big stuff.”

Edward Mason, former Statehouse bureau chief for the Eagle-Tribune (North Andover) during the Romney administration, can be reached at edward.mason04@gmail.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>