Can’t help but wonder: Did “Professor” tactic backfire?

I’ve decided to create a “can’t help but wonder” file and my first entry has to do with the decision by Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate re-election campaign to refer to his opponent as “Professor” Warren, rather than Ms or Mrs Warren. Everyone understands the thought process on this. Professors (especially Ivy League profs) are elitists, right?

Here’s the thing, though, Elizabeth Warren is also a woman and until November 6th of this year Massachusetts voters had never send a Woman to the U.S. Senate. I realize that we in the bright blue Bay State think ourselves enlightened and above sexism, but when the decision was made to play the “professor” card, did anybody consider how it might impact the “women” question?

Did Brown’s team consider the possibility that ALWAYS referring to his opponent by the title “Professor” would elevate her (if subconsciously) above the kinds of gender based (non)issues that can bedevil female candidates? Did they consider the possibility that it might actually make it easier for Warren to exploit the positive aspects of her gender while occupying a perch that is certainly not associated with female domination? I grew up with a very strong mother. She used to demand cards and gifts on both Mother’s and Father’s Days. She was thrilled with Brown’s recognition of Warren’s hard earned “status.”

Make no mistake about it; Warren would have won this race no matter what Brown called her. He clearly miscalculated the electoral value of using her title as a culture war dog whistle, and Elizabeth Warren deserves full credit for her successful campaign. Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder if this tactic actually helped Elizabeth Warren to break the glass ceiling in Massachusetts U.S. Senate contests.

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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