The Akin Effect in Massachusetts: Why Elizabeth Warren Needs to Nationalize the Race

  • Share
  • Read Later
Adam Hunger / Reuters

Elizabeth Warren speaks with the media as she campaigns after announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Framingham, Massachusetts, Sept. 14, 2011.

What do a Missouri congressman’s astonishingly misinformed comments on rape and pregnancy have to do with a Massachusetts Senate race between two pro-abortion rights candidates? If you’ve been listening to Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown this week, you’d think quite a lot.

Brown was among the first Republicans to call on Todd Akin to withdraw from his pivotal Missouri Senate race after Akin said women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” (He’s since apologized.) Brown followed that up with a public letter to national Republican chairman Reince Preibus (rhymes with “Jebus“) urging the GOP “to recognize in its platform that you can be pro-choice and still be a good Republican.” It was a smart move considering what Brown probably knew was coming.

On Wednesday, Warren’s campaign released a radio ad tying Akin’s position to the Republican party as a whole. “It’s not just one extreme candidate in Missouri,” the narrator says. “It’s part of a Republican pattern.” The ad is itself part of a pattern: Warren is desperately trying to rally Massachusetts Democrats by nationalizing the race.

On the campaign trail, Warren often lays out the stakes of her election in terms of the country’s direction–it could determine control of the Senate and the next Supreme Court–without mentioning her opponent. (Brown is not referenced in the above radio ad.) A quick look at the latest poll out of Massachusetts illustrates the urgency of her task.

In short, Warren has a base problem. A Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday found that 20% of Massachusetts Democrats are backing Brown. Some crossover is to be expected in a blue state where the GOP voting bloc is dwarfed by independents and Democrats. But Brown’s ability to siphon significant Democratic support poses a real threat to Warren’s candidacy.

Brown, a career legislator and newly promoted Colonel in the National Guard, has a lot of raw appeal in Massachusetts, a heavily Catholic state that’s never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate. But that’s not the only reason he may survive in hostile territory. PPP found that 24% of voters who’d like to see Democrats hold the Senate in November aren’t backing Warren. In other words, voters loyal to the national Democratic Party do not necessarily feel that same loyalty toward Warren, nor do they strongly associate Brown with national Republicans. Here’s pollster Tom Jensen explaining the numbers on Brown:

Massachusetts voters see the GOP as a whole as being extreme- 56% think it’s too conservative to only 27% who consider it to be ‘about right.’ But they don’t feel that way about Brown- just 30% think he’s too conservative to 54% who believe he’s ‘about right’ ideologically. 30% of voters who think Brown’s too conservative is less than the 41% who think that Warren is too liberal. Additionally 49% regard Brown more as someone who has been ‘an independent voice for Massachusetts’ compared to 38% who feel he’s been more a ‘partisan voice for the national Republican Party.’

That’s why PPP has Brown leading by five points. And though other recent polls have showed the race tied, it’s also why Brown is playing prevent defense on the Akin affair.