Setti Warren leaps into the U.S. Senate race

Newton Mayor Setti Warren announced yesterday he was running for Scott Brown’s seat in the U.S. Senate. If you look at his video announcement , he comes across as just the kind of person who should represent the Commonwealth in D.C. He certainly reflects more of Ted Kennedy’s values than does Scott Brown. And, if you compare Warren to the early Ted Kennedy, before he became the Senator we love to lionize, Setti is smoother (in a positive sense), more thoughtful, more articulate and more poised.

The problem is that he has only been mayor for 16 months. While he’s done a good job in terms of making the Mayor’s office more accessible and crafting a responsible budget in tough times, the plain truth is that the city still needs him to do the job he was elected to do and that he pledged to do. He’s letting some people down by making this run, and they have told him so. And it’s not just that he’d be leaving if elected. He shouldn’t be taking the time away from the city to make the run. As Cong. Barney Frank said of the idea a couple of weeks ago, “If it was the last year of the term it would be different.”

So why would he do it? From Setti’s career perspective, he has nothing to lose. He takes a page from the Obama book that argued it’s easier to run for higher office when you have less of a record to defend. If he runs and wins, then Massachusetts has a more enlightened voice in the Senate, and the Democrats get a needed vote at the national level. If he runs and loses, he ticks off some Newtonites for taking the time to make the run, but raises his statewide visibility. If there is an Obama II and if John Kerry becomes Secretary of State, Setti is well positioned to become the leading candidate to replace Kerry, for whom he used to work.

Sure, everyone says Scott Brown can’t be beaten. He is the most popular politician in Massachusetts and has a ton of money in the bank. But his voting record has been too cute by half, voting, we are told, over 85 percent with the Republican leadership and sometimes voting in opposition to the people of Massachusetts (unemployment benefits extension is just one issue that comes to mind). He voted against Head Start and Pell Grants. He voted for health reform as a state senator and says he now opposes the national legislation as a U.S. Senator. Last week’s fiasco when Brown asserted he had seen the Osama bin Laden death photos (when millions of people already knew they were internet fakes) made him look like a fool. When he tried to cover by saying he had seen them in a briefing and that wasn’t true, he looked like a liar.

Despite his high popularity and lavish war chest, Scott Brown’s election in 2010 may have been a fluke. Setti Warren may be banking on that. And though relatively few people across the state know who the heck he is, no one with greater credibility has come forward. Think Clinton over George H.W. Bush, Carter over Ford. More to the point, think Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses in 2008.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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