Dems on Warren: “The Sky is Falling!” (The Sequel)

A WBUR blog post titled What’s Wrong with the Warren Campaign by Democratic media consultant Dan Payne suggests that some in the party establishment are again eyeing the lifeboats. It’s not my job to buck up the Democrats – I’ve tried before in Dems on Warren: “The Sky is Falling!” – but as an act of Christian mercy (Matthew 25:40) let me give it another try.

Since the Bill Clinton convention speech the Democrats are promoting arithmetic and it is understandable that they would be worried if polls show Elizabeth Warren lagging far behind Senator Scott Brown.  Nonetheless Mr. Payne points to a poll aggregator at the Huffington Post that indicates Warren is about 4 points behind. HuffPost shows that most recently Kimball Political Consulting did a survey from September 7-9 that showed Brown ahead 46%-45% with 9% undecided. From August 16-19 (several weeks and a Democratic convention ago) Public Policy Polling did a more substantive poll showing Brown up by 5 points. Women and children first!

I suppose the reference point matters psychologically. In an April 2011 article for CommonWealth Magazine titled Hugs for Democrats I tried to talk Democrats down from the ledge, so deep was their despair at finding a credible challenger to the invincible Brown. If you could tell them then that they would be within the margin of error in September 2012 they’d have jumped for joy.

So what is wrong with the Warren campaign? Well, Mr. Payne’s “(small) sample of well-educated Democratic and independent women” finds them disappointed by Warren’s campaign but still planning to vote for her. (Shouldn’t Democrats win highly educated Democratic women?) The PPP poll had Warren ahead only 50%-41% among women overall. The public polling data I’ve seen leads me to suspect that many Brown women voters are lower educated, middle income, and Catholic.

According to the WBUR post the Republican convention was so retrograde “and with President Obama on his way to a 20-point win in the state, Warren should be smoking Brown.”

Uh, no. Brown has important structural advantages. He is an incumbent. He is popular. He has the money to match Warren.  He is running a good campaign. Why Democrats underestimate him and think they have every right to “smoke” him is beyond me.  

And yes Warren has structural advantages too. She is a Democrat in a Democratic state. It’s a presidential election year with a popular (here) Democratic president, and there will be increased turnout (but if the increased turnout is among the less-well educated, that could help Brown. Future research question).  

Ah for the glory days of the state Democratic Party, when our own John F. Kennedy headed the ticket winning the presidency in 1960. Whoops. Republican John Volpe won the governor’s office that year.

There’s more advice I don’t understand. The well-educated women miss the “warrior against Wall Street.” But then Warren is counseled against tough language like “rigged” or “hammered.” So she should be a soft, endearing warrior?

I have to agree with Mr. Payne that the campaign ads have been uninspiring (Gov. Dukakis has made the same point). But look again at the HuffPost poll aggregator. If she was in a dead heat in April, May, June, and July, and she is still in roughly the same position now, how bad could the advertisements be?

 I am not going to agree that “TV spots are the campaign” and for that you can read my July post What We All Know About Campaign Ads is Wrong.

Any hard data showing the Cherokee heritage trivia hurt? No. In the paradoxical world of fundraising, heightening the passion of liberal campaign contributors may even have helped.

Payne criticizes the campaign for being too organizational. But one thing that political science research by Yale’s Donald Green and others clearly shows is that organization does work in producing votes.  

Finally there’s this: “Talking to political people, I find nearly all believe Coakley will win.” Hold on, typo, let me backspace and correct. What Mr. Payne really said was “Talking to political people, I find nearly all believe Brown will win.”

You get the point.





About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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