Elizabeth Warren demonstrated at this week’s debate that she is a real player, but, despite media raves, she didn’t necessarily hit the ball out of the park. The six Democratic candidates met Tuesday night in a non-debate at UMass Lowell, the event co-sponsored by the Boston Herald. The six were in agreement on virtually all the issues. The format permitted no follow up or real engagement. But it did permit the six to get out their core messages and somehow convey to the audience a sense of who they are. Perhaps this is all we can hope for a year ahead of next year’s primary.
For her part, Warren stressed her personal story, growing up “around the ragged edges of the middle class,” struggling to make ends meet, getting an education at public institutions, making it finally to her job at Harvard, and working to protect the consumer against the predatory practices of financial institutions. She was quick to point out that Forbes Magazine had named Scott Brown Wall Street’s favorite Senator and drily pointed out, “That’s probably not an award I’m going to get.”
Beyond her core message, what she successfully conveyed is her warmth and quick sense of humor. When a questionner, noting that Scott Brown had helped finance his college education by posing nude for Cosmo, asked the candidates how they had paid for school, she quipped, “I kept my clothes on. I borrowed money” Warren could actually be fun to follow.
Engineer Herb Robinson, who has absolutely no chance of winning, also demonstrated a sense of humor. In response to a time-wasting question about which super hero each candidate would choose to be, he said the answer was obvious, the Incredible Hulk, and jumped up to demonstrate his more than ample girth. Later, he attempted humor noting that, as an engineer, he knew the difference between hair spray and nuclear fallout. The “joke” sank like a rock.
City Year founder Alan Khazei promised to be the “ game changer” that Scott Brown had pledged to be, but didn’t deliver on. Khazei’s humor came in response to a question of legalization of marijuana. “I did inhale, and I enjoyed it.” But, he added, he doesn’t favor legalization. Khazei’s tone throughout the event seemed more poised, polished and confident than he did during his first campaign two years ago.
Immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco showed herself to be very spunky and confident. I’m sure that running for Senate will help her law practice. She’s feisty, articulate and very obviously courting the union vote as well as legal clients.
Bob Massie, a candidate for lieutenant governor in 1994, spoke of the battle he overcame with illness and implying he can come from behind in this race, too. He was not convincing, nor was three-term state rep Tom Conroy, who noted that he is the only candidate who has actually defeated a Republican incumbent.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the primary boil down to a race between Khazei, who has raised a million dollars, and Warren. He tried to get her to agree not to accept PAC money and, as the race narrows, will probably try to don the mantle of the grassroots, anti-establishment candidate. Given their similarity on issues, however, it is their personalities and how effective voters think each would be in Washington that may be determinative.
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