Elizabeth Warren Touts Her Ties to Ted Kennedy

Elizabeth Warren Touts Her Ties to Ted Kennedy

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - September 4, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In a speech to the Massachusetts delegation here on Tuesday, Elizabeth Warren memorialized the man whose long-held U.S. Senate seat she hopes to win back for Democrats in November.

"Ted Kennedy changed my life," Warren said, noting that the 2012 Democratic convention marked the first such gathering in decades that Bay State delegates are without the late lawmaker. “He changed how I understood what it is that a public servant does. I think of him in this race every single day, and I come to this convention and think about him every single hour.”

Warren is running neck and neck with Republican Sen. Scott Brown in a race that could help determine the balance of power in the Senate. Ever since Brown won a special election in early 2010 to complete the remainder of Kennedy’s term, Democrats have been angling to take back a seat they believe belongs to them.

The presidential race in her traditionally blue state should help Warren, but she is struggling to gain traction among white, working-class voters who find Brown appealing and relatable. She is trying to reach out to those voters by pushing a message of tax fairness for the middle class -- one that President Obama is proffering in his own campaign. “We believe everyone should pay their fair share -- the richest and the wealthiest. We believe the middle class should not be hammered harder with more tax increases to pay for more tax cuts to the wealthy, ” she said, employing her signature campaign line. Warren also called for investments in infrastructure and education. She charged Republicans with not advocating for those tax policies and investments.

“We know what this race is about,” she said to the receptive crowd. “We know that what happens in 2012 will affect the direction of this country for the next half-century.”

Warren, a Harvard law professor who helped establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, did not venture from her middle-class-crusade script, which convention-goers will hear more about on Wednesday night, when she takes to the podium in prime time. But she sought to connect herself more closely to Kennedy. She recalled meeting with him several years ago to discuss his fight against changes to the country’s bankruptcy laws (measures that later passed despite Kennedy’s opposition). “My job and our job is to live up to what it is that Senator Kennedy asked of himself. And that is: We do our work for hard-working families who are counting on us.”

While Warren is running on Obama’s themes in a blue state in a presidential election year, she hasn’t closed the deal. Both public and internal polling by Democrats shows the race tied or nearly so. Brown enjoys high favorability ratings and has been running a campaign based on his “everyman” appeal and on being a moderate.

In a meeting with reporters in Charlotte, Democratic National Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil said he is encouraged by polls showing that undecided voters in this Senate race are more likely to vote for Obama by about 65 percent to 25 percent. The presidential race, he says, gives them “an enormous opportunity to reach out to those voters.”

Cecil also noted that Warren has not yet run negative campaign ads, which he suggested could impact Brown’s likability numbers. Even supporters and admirers of Warren admit that Brown’s personal appeal has made this a close race.

“I think he is perceived as being independent, and people like that, in comparison to the right wing that controls the GOP, and admittedly some of his votes are to the left,” said Joel Ellis, an attorney from Stockbridge, Mass., who attended the breakfast. “But to the left of Genghis Khan is not a moderate. I think he is a very likable guy, has good political skills, but I think the bottom line in terms of division and direction of the country will come out when she competes directly with him [in debates.]” Ellis’ wife, Patricia, agreed, and said Warren’s speech to the convention might help broaden her appeal.

Cecil wouldn’t speculate whether the convention speech would give Warren a bump but said the exposure to a national audience is a net positive. “For Elizabeth Warren, [the convention] is a great opportunity for her.” 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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