Brown and Warren Seek to Polish Images
by Liam White on Friday, October 5th, 2012
Ted Kennedy’s death in August 2009 forced the state of Massachusetts into a dilemma that it had avoided for 47 years. For the first time since 1962, his Senate seat was up for grabs, and Massachusetts needed to decide whom they actually wanted to represent them in the Senate. In a shocking upset, Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley to give Massachusetts one Democratic and one Republican Senator for the first time since 1979. The Senate seat is once again up for election this January, with Brown looking to break the current stalemate in the polls and win reelection against Democrat Elizabeth Warren. While recent polls seem to give Warren the edge, Brown seems to have the advantage when it comes to that all-important question: whom can voters identify with?
Changing the mind of a state as liberal and traditionally Democratic as Massachusetts takes very specific tactics. When Scott Brown was elected to the senate two years ago to serve out Kennedy’s term, he won because he was able to connect to voters on a very human level. Rather than run a campaign focused on rigid political statements, Brown showed a unique humility, rare in politicians, which made him relatable to voters. As he runs for reelection, Brown continues to tell his story of a working-class youth who worked to obtain a strong education. Scott Brown shows the people of Massachusetts a carefully designed image: a New England-raised, pickup-truck-driving, supportive father of two college-age daughters.
Brown has managed to create a nearly fool proof persona to combat his label as a Republican. Furthermore, Brown has demonstrated some willingness to support policies that he feels benefit society, like gay marriage and legal abortion, even if they conflict with conservative Republican views. This same lack of commitment, though, is what voters remain unconvinced about. While Brown emphasizes his independence from the Republican Party, he still votes with them more often than not, confusing the 11% of Massachusetts voters who identify as Republican, as well as the 53% of voters who are independent but generally vote for the Democratic candidate.
Still, Brown’s clear definition of his character, as both a person and a politician, is perhaps more assuring than the attempts of his opponent, Elizabeth Warren, to appeal to voters. Vying to become the state’s first female senator, Warren has an esteemed background in the financial world, valuable in a time when the economy has been slow to recover and the job market is slim. She is also a law professor at Harvard, giving her a good standing in a region of the country where education is highly valued. She is struggling, however, to gain an edge in the polls, partly due to the controversy surrounding her Native American heritage. To put it bluntly, Elizabeth Warren looks Caucasian, yet the Oklahoma City native says she is 1/16 Cherokee, a claim which she shared with employers seeking faculty of diverse backgrounds. No records have been able to confirm or deny that she has any connection to the Cherokee people. That she can claim to be only 1/16 Native American has made many skeptical of her racial views and professional career. When affirmative action has already caused tension in a state filled with prestigious schools, some are disturbed by the notion of electing a senator who may have abused the blurry policy.
Brown, however, may have overplayed his hand on the Native American issue. His aggressive pursuit of it in his recent debate with Warren and in his advertisements came across to many as bullying, and did not interface well with his image as a personable politician.
In the end, Massachusetts may very well stick to its roots and vote for the Democrat, but Scott Brown has won the important likability battle. When independents are asked which candidate they prefer as a person, Brown leads by 30 percentage points. For voters who are frightened by the complexities of politics, image matters.
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