Observers of the Brown-Warren senate campaign have described the incumbent Republican senator's fundamental qualification as that of "a nice guy to have a beer with." Reflecting this apt conclusion is the nature of modern electoral contests. One can't avoid being struck by their emphasis on show business and image making compared with scant attention given to substance and policy. Scott Brown, the most popular politician in Massachusetts at 60% approval, has proven far more adept at public manipulation than Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, who as Harvard Law Professor appears uncomfortable with this type of campaigning. Brown pointedly refers to his opponent as "Professor Warren", boxing her in as elitist intellectual disconnected from the concerns of regular people.
Warren may indeed be hampered by her dignified and formal style. Her scripted interview responses and testy exchanges with reporters have left mixed impressions. Warren's fumbled handling of the controversy over her presumed native American origins was hardly surefooted public relations. A contest predicted to be a blow-out in Democratic Massachusetts has thus turned into a horse race. Campaign funding is not an entirely knowable factor. Warren apparently has an edge in reported donations while Brown may been leading with unregulated PAC sources. Reports estimate the senator's advantage at $2 million.
Brown's senate voting record has been one of methodical accommodation to the majority of Massachusetts voters and contains little for Warren supporters to challenge. Although he has authored well-crafted bills, none have been enacted as the content has been out of sync with conservative Republican senators. At the same time Brown's appeal with centrist Democrats and independents in the state has remained significant. Recent ads and pronouncements by the senator all but avoid mention of his Republican affiliation.
Although there have been a few meaningful exchanges between Warren and Brown on deficit reduction and communitarian vs individualist values, thus far these themes have achieved modest public traction. Warren would do well to more fully engage them in the fall debates, applying to good advantage her strong rhetorical skills. As her singular public achievement, advocacy for the consumer against financial malpractices, recedes in memory Warren has struggled with launch of new initiatives around which to rally a following.
Both candidates have avoided serious discussion of measures for economic recovery. Predictably so, as controversial deliberations on policy at the end of the day are trumped by the more effective tactics of image making.
Should there be a Jon Stewart type satirical lens through which the senate race can be viewed it may well be the manipulative, pandering nature of electoral politics which prevails at the expense of well-informed engagement with substance.
Andrew L. Vitvitsky