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Brown, Warren Hone Their Pitches to Working-Class Voters

Brown, Warren Hone Their Pitches to Working-Class Voters

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - October 10, 2012


BOSTON -- Flanked by his wife and a few staffers -- and trailed by that famous green Chevy truck -- Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown makes his way down the annual Columbus Day parade route here on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, jogging at times to keep pace while touching as many onlookers' hands as he can.

Parade watchers dressed in baseball caps and sweatshirts touting Boston sports teams yell out to Brown and wish him good luck in his re-election bid.

Not far behind him is Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren -- surrounded by dozens of sign-holding volunteers, local party candidates and the city’s mayor, Tom Menino. The candidates are separated only by a university marching band and seem to be generating equal support from the crowd.

The two are running in one of the most impassioned and consequential races in the country, and some say Brown needs all the luck he can get in a state President Obama will likely carry handily. And that means he needs votes from the people he passes here in East Boston, a gritty, working-class neighborhood where residents may well be planning to vote for the Democratic president but perhaps see more of themselves in Brown. The Republican’s re-election depends upon getting enough Bay State voters to pull the lever for Obama and then do the same for Brown.

It’s a tough challenge for the incumbent, who got to Washington by roughly 109,000 votes (out of more than 2.2 million cast) in a 2010 special election. Most analysts would characterize a one-point win for Brown here as a landslide. Even some of his most ardent supporters fear the presidential election turnout may complicate things for him.

Marcia Zichittella says she is heartened by the “Democrats for Brown” and “Women for Brown” bumper stickers and yard signs she sees in Billerica and elsewhere, located about 20 miles north of Boston. “I’m hoping that’s enough,” the retired teacher says after eating lunch at the town’s Liberty Bell pizza and sub shop, where Brown has stopped by on another day. “Obviously Scott was elected during a very special election. . . . So now, with so many people coming out, I worry a little bit.”

Massachusetts traditionally is a blue state, but it has an increasing number of independent voters, who now make up about half the electorate. Brown tends to hold an edge among these voters, but analysts figure he needs to pick up 18 to 25 percent of the Democratic vote. The RealClearPolitics average shows a close race, with Warren leading by 1.7 percentage points. A WBUR poll released Tuesday found Brown ahead by three points. A Western New England survey released Sunday found Warren leading by five points among likely voters. Forty-six percent of respondents identified themselves as independent and backed Brown by 27 points. But the Republican senator pulled just 11 percent from Democrats.

Part of Brown’s strategy in attracting ticket-splitters is to sell himself as the everyman candidate who grew up in a neighborhood like theirs and understands the economic troubles they face, and as a man who reaches across the aisle in Washington.

“We have a tremendous amount of crossovers,” Brown says in an interview with RCP, insisting the presidential race won’t play much of a role in his race. “I know [Warren] is trying to rely on President Obama’s coattails. . . . She is trying to nationalize the race. People are smarter than that. They understand that I’ve been here, I’m from here, I married a local girl, kids, you know, I’m from here. That being said, she’s not.”

The other part of Brown’s game plan is to paint the woman marching behind him in the parade as someone far removed from the people watching it. Her milieu, he asserts, is Cambridge, where Warren has taught law courses at Harvard. Brown invariably calls Warren “professor” to pin her to the perceived elitism associated with prestigious universities, and he has accused his challenger of using her self-identified Native American heritage to advance her career.

The heritage controversy had been swirling for several months, but was reignited in recent debates, forcing Warren to launch a television ad defending herself against the criticism. Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated with the issue. Gov. Deval Patrick last week called Brown a “Bay State birther,” connecting him to those who question President Obama’s place of birth. At a press conference last week at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, Mayor Menino and black church leaders who endorsed Warren over Brown called for an end to the controversy. Brown “has taken on an issue that I think is very derogatory” towards Warren, Menino said. “Elected officials take on those issues when they have nothing else to say. . . . It’s about dividing people. What about bringing people together?”

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

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