Fashioning herself as a voice for the working class willing to stand up against the interests of corporate lobbyists, Elizabeth Warren officially launched her campaign Wednesday for the Democratic nomination to take on Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) next Fall.
In a one minute and thirty-five second video posted on her campaign’s website, the former Harvard Law Professor turned consumer advocate says that a Washington dominated by corporate special interests whose desires are met at the expense of average Americans, was key in tipping the scales for her in favor of running for the U.S Senate.
“Washington is rigged for big corporations that hire armies of lobbyists. A big company like GE (General Electric) pays nothing in taxes, and we’re asking college students to take on even more debt to get an education. We’re telling seniors they have to live on less. It isn’t right and it’s why I am running for the United States Senate.”
Following her announcement, she began Wednesday greeting South Boston Commuters at the Broadway MBTA station, before embarking on a two day journey across the Commonwealth visiting the cities of Framingham, Gloucester, Lowell, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester.
Her entry makes her the seventh in what had been a field of Democratic candidates with low name recognition and who face an uphill battle to beat Brown in November 2012. Brown’s upset win in the January 2010 special election to complete the term of long-time U.S Senator Edward M Kennedy (D-MA) who died in August 2009, sent shock waves throughout the country in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972 ( and that was a black liberal Republican). Brown’s victory against Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley became a rallying point for the then still infant conservative Tea Party movement, foreshadowing the sweep by Republicans later that year in the November mid-term elections.
Warren, 62 first came to prominence outside the walls of Harvard Law and the world of bankruptcy law when she was tapped in 2008 to chair the Congressional oversight committee tasked with overseeing the $700 billion Federal TARP Program that bailed out U.S financial institutions and bought up “toxic assets” that were responsible for the largest meltdown of the finacial sector since the Great Depression.
Becoming known for her frankness and criticisms of risky lending practices and lax enforcement of Federal laws concerning them; she championed the enactment of strong regulations on the financial industry and the creation of an independent consumer protection agency, tasked with overseeing and educating the public about financial products and lending practices.
Following the passage of the ‘Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010’ that included the formation of such an organization with the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Buereua (CFPB). In 2010, she was made special assistant to the President and Adviser to U.S Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner in setting up the agency. Her populist appeal and Wall Street criticism won her much admiration from progressive activists and consumer advocates alike, but also the ire of the banking and credit agencies as well as Conservatives. Many Republicans though decried Warren’s efforts such as championing the creation of the CFPB, which they say would impose excessive limits on credit lending and be an organization with little congressional oversight.
Many liberals called on the president to appoint the Harvard academic and Grandmother of three as head of the CFPB, but assurances by Senate Republicans to block her conformation to the post led to the selection of someone else. Progressive activist groups taken with Warren’s fighting posture next began an effort to draft her to run for the Democratic nomination to challenge Brown in the Fall (Brown had supported the Dodd -Frank bill, but only after many provisions were watered down). Groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an organization dedicated to help elect progressive-minded candidates to public office, raised large sums of money for a hypothetical run.
By August, Warren was attending house parties of local progressive activists and Democrats in the Bay State and launched an exploratory committee to weigh such a camapaign before jumping in Wednesday.
Warren has never before run for political office, and thus is unskilled in the area of political campaigning. In a year when congressional approval is so low that could be an asset. She also has a background in debating, a compelling narrative, and a stream of money likely to pour in from progressives. Unlike her other Democratic opponents she also has a high profile.
There are many perils though. First is the fact she has never run for political office and could be a bad campaigner. A gaffe could easily tie her campaign in knots and send her off message. Already she seems to have stumbled on whether or not to support the president’s jobs bill. Her background as a professor could allow her opponents to paint her as out of touch with the blue collar Democrats that helped elect Brown in 2010. She could align herself to closely with the progressive base of the party thus alienating independents and moderate Democrats. And though her views on financial reform are clear, her views and past statements on other matters such as social issues and foreign policy could be ones at odds to the progressive groups that have laid the foundation for her run. Any deviation from that could dampen support for her among the base.
Unlike Warren, some of her six current Democratic opponents have experience running for office such as Newton Mayor Setti Warren (no relation), Bob Massie who in 1994 was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and Alan Khazei who unsuccessfully sought the party’s nomination in the Fall. Khazei has already taken the first swipe when Thursday he released a statement to the Boston Globe saying that if she is ‘true to her word’, Warren will reject any money from corporate lobbyists and Political Action Committees. The Warren campaign in turn rejected such a move, saying that all potential contributors ‘ know she has been fighting for middle class families her whole life’ .
But the challenges that Warren faces in the primary will likely dwarf those of her or any Democratic candidate face now. As Coakley found out far too late, those who underestimate the appeal and political acumen of Brown do so at their own peril. Despite Republicans not picking up any congressional seats or other statewide offices in last year’s midterm elections, Brown is still ranked the most popular politician in Massachusetts. Polls this year have found him beating all the Democratic candidates, though his lead has begun to decrease, with Warren shown to be the strongest candidate to defeat him.
He has voted with his party in the Senate 80% of the time, railing against tax increases, President Obama’s healthcare reform, deficit spending, and most slammed Gov Patrick for refusing to participate in a federal program to crackdown on illegal immigration. Despite that, he has cast himself as an independent mind, distancing himself from the more incendiary rhetoric of the Tea Party and breaking with party orthodoxy on some key votes. For example, Brown voted to end the miliitary’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Program”, renew the START nuclear weapons treaty, renew unemployment benefits several times, and opposed the budget of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) that would have transformed Medicare into a voucher program. He even supported the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform legislation (though some changes were made to win his vote and avoid a Republican filibuster in the Senate), and got some flak from Glenn Beck.
Brown also has a large campaign war chest. Federal Election Commission records from the last campaign fundraising quarter show his campaign had over nine million dollars on hand, with none of his other competitors even coming close.
The seat held by Brown is one of only two Republican seats ranked by the Cook Political Report, that Democrats could possibly pick up next year. A dour economy, a number of Democratic Senators retiring, and several others in swing states up for re-election; the party’s razor thin majority could depend on whether they pick-up the seat.
A clear forecast of exactly who will be the strongest contender to take on Brown is far off with the primary nearly a year away. But whether Warren is the breakout candidate Democrats in the Commonwealth are hoping for or just the latest flavor of the month, next year for the first time since 1996; the eyes of political junkies across the country will be watching a competitive general election race for the U.S Senate unfold in Massachusetts.
Update: (09/20/11)- A New poll shows that the newly minted Democratic contender for the party’s nomi nation to take on Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) now leads Brown in a hypothetical match-up by two points.