Massachusetts Senate Race, Everett, Boston

Candidate Elizabeth Warren (since elected) and Senator Barbara Mikulski

October 28 2012

In Mitt Romney’s home state of Massachusetts, cash is pouring into the battle for the Senate seat that was traditionally owned by the Kennedy clan.

In the costliest race in the country outside the presidential contest, with $70 million raised so far, Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, with huge backing from US liberals and womens’ groups, may be inching ahead of truck-driving former model Senator Scott Brown.

But the battle, for a critical swing seat that could help decide whether Democats can hold on to their Senate majority, is on a knife edge.

In the city of Everett, a three-mile long stretch of Boston’s metropolitan suburbs which cherishes its champion high school football team, Warren was a star guest at a fund-raising event for Sal DiDomenico, a local state politician.

“This race is about what kind of a people we are, and what kind of country we are determined to build,” she said, praising the “good family people” in the working class city of about 40,000 people.

“The Republicans…They say the way to build a future is to cut taxes for those at the top, and leave everybody else to pick up the pieces. We are better people than that.”

Her opponent himself, she tells the crowd, “is going all around the country saying this race will determine whether or not the Republicans take control of the US Senate.”

In 2010 Scott Brown, a real estate attorney, won a special election to replace the late Senator Edward Kennedy. He became the first Republican Senator for Massachusetts since 1972, driving his truck around the state in a folksy campaign.

His tough childhood and law degree from a top US university give a harder edge to his career than a six-year stint as a part-time model that included winning Cosmopolitan magazine’s “America’s Sexiest Man” contest.

Brown’s startling victory early in Barack Obama’s term was seized on by Tea Party Republicans. He is a popular figure who voters “would like to have a beer with”, and in the Senate he has claimed a moderate voting record.

“For me it doesn’t really matter who is in charge,” he said in a recent television interview. “The problem is in Washington you have these extremes on the left and the right, but in between you have 15-20 of us, who are actually the good moderates, Democrats and Republicans.

“I’m tired of the gridlock, it makes me disgusted. There is plenty of blame to go around.”

At the Everett gathering John Burley, who works for the city, described himself as Democrat supporter of Brown. “I want somebody who is going to be able to deal with the issues. I don’t want partisan politics. I want the person to vote whether the issues are good for the people. It’s the economy, it’s everything.”

His friend Vinny Rugieri was leaning to Warren. “There’s a lot of people out of work, people don’t spend their money like they used to, it’s tough times just now. I think it’s kind of split 50-50 between Warren and Brown, in this group.”

The city was formerly mostly Irish and Italian, but has been shifting more recently to wards Asian and Latino immigrant communities.

Early in the autumn Brown’s campaign seized on reports that Warren had claimed native American ancestry at Harvard as 1/32 Cherokee, lampooning her with war whoops. While he used the issue in the first debates with Warren it appears the tactic may have run its course.

The Democrats currently have a 53-47 majority in the Senate and early on the Massachusetts race was seen as vital.

Brown’s big backers have been mostly from finance and business, like the Boston-based mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments, as well as many smaller donors within the state. Emily’s List, supporting pro-choice Democrats, has been among the big funders for Warren, along with union and environmental groups.

Accepting Brown’s popularity, Warren’s camp has cast the contest as a national race, calling on the wealthy to pay back to society and courting pro-choice women after Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s recent remarks on rape and pregnancy. Polls suggest that message is working, with a six percentage point lead in some of the latest surveys and a wider gap among women.

At a rally at the state-funded University of Massachusetts, the longest serving woman in Congress, veteran Senator Barbara Mikulski came to lend support, at what was cast as a sisterhood of “women for Warren”. She attacked conservative Republicans “who don’t understand our biology”.

She accepted that Brown was “a nice guy, a well-intentioned guy” but singled out his votes on equal pay for women. “It’s women that will determine the fate of the US Senate. Women as candidates, and women as voters, and the men that support them. We have a rendez-vous with destiny.”