Commentary Magazine


Topic: Massachusetts Senate race

Are Obama’s Scandals Hurting Markey?

Any objective analysis of the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts has to begin with the fact that 2013 is not 2010 and Gabriel Gomez is not Scott Brown. There are a number of reasons why Gomez is facing an uphill slog to duplicate Brown’s amazing upset in which the GOP snagged a seat in a deep blue state. With Politico reporting that Democrats are funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into this battle, it’s clear they are going all-out to ensure that this time the GOP won’t steal a safe Democratic seat. But recent polls are showing that Gomez is still in striking distance of Democratic Representative Ed Markey in the race to replace John Kerry in a seat that will again be up for grabs in 2014.

With only two weeks to go before the June 25 vote, Markey led Gomez by seven points in a Suffolk University poll, a considerable narrowing of the 17-point margin he enjoyed just a month ago. With Gomez lacking so many of the advantages that Brown had when he upset Martha Coakley, the question is why does this political neophyte still have a chance?

The answer may be found in the problems of the man who is flying into Massachusetts tomorrow to buck up Markey: President Obama. The president’s decision to involve himself personally in the vote is a sign of Democratic confidence, since Obama would be loath to intervene if he thought Markey was really going down to defeat. But the ability of Gomez to stay in a race that ought to be a cakewalk may be more about the general growing dissatisfaction with an administration mired in a trio of scandals than distaste for the political dinosaur that Democrats have nominated for the Senate.

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Any objective analysis of the special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts has to begin with the fact that 2013 is not 2010 and Gabriel Gomez is not Scott Brown. There are a number of reasons why Gomez is facing an uphill slog to duplicate Brown’s amazing upset in which the GOP snagged a seat in a deep blue state. With Politico reporting that Democrats are funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into this battle, it’s clear they are going all-out to ensure that this time the GOP won’t steal a safe Democratic seat. But recent polls are showing that Gomez is still in striking distance of Democratic Representative Ed Markey in the race to replace John Kerry in a seat that will again be up for grabs in 2014.

With only two weeks to go before the June 25 vote, Markey led Gomez by seven points in a Suffolk University poll, a considerable narrowing of the 17-point margin he enjoyed just a month ago. With Gomez lacking so many of the advantages that Brown had when he upset Martha Coakley, the question is why does this political neophyte still have a chance?

The answer may be found in the problems of the man who is flying into Massachusetts tomorrow to buck up Markey: President Obama. The president’s decision to involve himself personally in the vote is a sign of Democratic confidence, since Obama would be loath to intervene if he thought Markey was really going down to defeat. But the ability of Gomez to stay in a race that ought to be a cakewalk may be more about the general growing dissatisfaction with an administration mired in a trio of scandals than distaste for the political dinosaur that Democrats have nominated for the Senate.

The Suffolk poll showed that a majority of Massachusetts’s voters are not prepared to think the worst of President Obama in terms of any direct link to the Benghazi, IRS or press snooping scandals. But the high levels of distrust in government may be depressing enthusiasm for the Democrats at time when Republicans lack the advantages they had in 2010.

Gomez can campaign on his biography as a former Navy SEAL and successful businessman who is a new face seeking to oppose a veteran politician in Markey, whose ’70s-style haircut is a standing reminder that he’s been in Congress since Gerald Ford was president. But as a neophyte, he lacks Brown’s political experience as well as his natural charm. He also doesn’t have the ability to rally both his party loyalists as well as most independents that Brown had with his campaign against ObamaCare. While Markey is no political genius, he is not easing up in the way that Coakley did once she won the Democratic primary. As Brown’s subsequent attempt to hold onto his seat last year showed, the circumstances that produced his victory in this deep blue state were unique and not necessarily capable of duplication even with the same charismatic candidate.

National Review is reporting that Gomez’s internal polling is showing him virtually even with Markey. But even if we dismiss such a poll as partisan spin, the mere fact that he is seen in more credible surveys as trailing only by single digits may show that something is going on that ought to trouble Democrats. The accumulation of scandals that seems to grow by the day has to be hurting Markey and helping Gomez. It’s highly unlikely that the impact of these problems will be enough to allow Gomez to win, but the Democratic confidence in the idea that no one outside of Washington cares about Obama’s scandals is about to be put to the test and the and the results may not provide his party with much comfort.

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Can History Repeat Itself in Massachusetts?

Yesterday’s Senate primaries in Massachusetts have set up an intriguing possibility. Is it possible for an attractive newcomer with moderate positions to steal a seat for the Republicans in a match-up against a dull, veteran Democratic politician? If that scenario sounds familiar, it should. That was the setup three years ago when Scott Brown knocked off Martha Coakley in the special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. This year, GOP nominee Gabriel Gomez is cast in the same role as Brown and he has the biography as well as the campaign funds to put up a stiff challenge against Democrat Representative Ed Markey.

But while Gomez must be considered to have a fighting chance, there are two factors that were decisive in 2010 that seem to be missing this time. In their absence, any Republican optimism about a repeat of Brown’s historic upset should be tempered with realism.

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Yesterday’s Senate primaries in Massachusetts have set up an intriguing possibility. Is it possible for an attractive newcomer with moderate positions to steal a seat for the Republicans in a match-up against a dull, veteran Democratic politician? If that scenario sounds familiar, it should. That was the setup three years ago when Scott Brown knocked off Martha Coakley in the special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. This year, GOP nominee Gabriel Gomez is cast in the same role as Brown and he has the biography as well as the campaign funds to put up a stiff challenge against Democrat Representative Ed Markey.

But while Gomez must be considered to have a fighting chance, there are two factors that were decisive in 2010 that seem to be missing this time. In their absence, any Republican optimism about a repeat of Brown’s historic upset should be tempered with realism.

The first factor is the lack of a crusading issue that could galvanize the electorate. In 2010, Brown had such an issue in ObamaCare, which was even more unpopular in Massachusetts because it already had its own health care insurance bill courtesy of former governor Mitt Romney. Brown ran as the man who could prevent the Democrats from getting a filibuster-proof majority. That was the sort of thing that could attract independents to his cause as well as some Democrats.

Also missing from the Republican plan is an opponent who can do an excellent impression of a cardboard cutout. Markey is a grizzled veteran with more than 36 years in Congress, but the one thing he won’t do is repeat Martha Coakley’s mistake of running as if the election was already decided. Markey won’t underestimate Gomez. He’ll fight hard and play dirty. Markey will smear Gomez as a threat to Social Security as well as putting out slurs on his business record, effectively replaying the nasty attacks Democrats used against Romney last year.

But Gomez does have one thing going for him. The match-up in terms of personalities is all in his favor. The Republican is a young, successful former Navy SEAL. Markey is a walking, talking advertisement for term limits with his ’70s haircut and the fact that he has been in Congress since Gerald Ford was president. In an off-year election with a small turnout, that gives Gomez an opportunity.

But it should be remembered that even with a more favorable match-up, Brown barely beat Coakley. Gomez is going to have to prove to be every bit the campaigner that Brown proved to be and that is not an easy lift. In the next couple of months, we’ll find out if the tiny Massachusetts Republican party can come with a second political star in the space of three years. If Gomez is that star, he might win. But nothing short of a brilliant performance by Gomez will enable the Republicans to repeat their 2010 coup.

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Warren’s Troubles Extend Beyond Cherokee Problem

Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren have been locked in a dead-heat for months, despite the national attention on Warren’s Cherokee heritage controversy. But that doesn’t mean Warren is in the clear. Even if the Cherokee issue fades, Public Policy Polling found deeper problems for her in its latest poll today:

 The ever close Massachusetts Senate race has drawn closer in the last three months. Elizabeth Warren remains at 46 percent, but incumbent Republican Scott Brown has drawn up five points to tie Warren because of resurgent support from independent voters.

In fact, Brown has doubled his margin with independents. He led by 12 points with them the last time PPP polled the state in March, and he is up 24 now. The candidates’ shares of the respective two-party vote remain essentially unchanged, with Brown still drawing nearly 20 percent of Warren’s party and Warren pulling less than 10 percent of Brown’s. The problem for Warren is that 13 percent of current Obama voters and 18 percent of those who say they voted for him in 2008 are with Brown right now.

 

Brown’s support has doubled with independents since March, and while PPP didn’t ask about Warren’s ancestry issue, it’s hard to imagine that hasn’t played at least a minor role. But again, the problem goes deeper than that when you dig into the full polling data. Just 34 percent of voters say Brown is “too conservative,” compared to 42 percent who say Warren is “too liberal.” That’s remarkable for a state as deep-blue as Massachusetts.

Brown and Warren both have similarly high favorable ratings, but Brown’s job performance is at the 51 percent mark. Nearly half of respondents said he was an “independent vote for Massachusetts” compared to 39 percent who said he spoke primarily for the Republican Party. The bottom line is, voters are more likely to view Brown favorably and see him as more in-tune with their own opinions than Warren. This contradicts the entire premise of running Warren — the idea was that a Republican was only able to win in the liberal state because voters didn’t have an exciting, competent, likable choice in the Democratic Party. But even though respondents view Warren favorably — her Cherokee problem apparently didn’t hurt her too much in that regard — they are less likely to agree with her politically. And that’s a huge concern for any Massachusetts Democrat.

Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren have been locked in a dead-heat for months, despite the national attention on Warren’s Cherokee heritage controversy. But that doesn’t mean Warren is in the clear. Even if the Cherokee issue fades, Public Policy Polling found deeper problems for her in its latest poll today:

 The ever close Massachusetts Senate race has drawn closer in the last three months. Elizabeth Warren remains at 46 percent, but incumbent Republican Scott Brown has drawn up five points to tie Warren because of resurgent support from independent voters.

In fact, Brown has doubled his margin with independents. He led by 12 points with them the last time PPP polled the state in March, and he is up 24 now. The candidates’ shares of the respective two-party vote remain essentially unchanged, with Brown still drawing nearly 20 percent of Warren’s party and Warren pulling less than 10 percent of Brown’s. The problem for Warren is that 13 percent of current Obama voters and 18 percent of those who say they voted for him in 2008 are with Brown right now.

 

Brown’s support has doubled with independents since March, and while PPP didn’t ask about Warren’s ancestry issue, it’s hard to imagine that hasn’t played at least a minor role. But again, the problem goes deeper than that when you dig into the full polling data. Just 34 percent of voters say Brown is “too conservative,” compared to 42 percent who say Warren is “too liberal.” That’s remarkable for a state as deep-blue as Massachusetts.

Brown and Warren both have similarly high favorable ratings, but Brown’s job performance is at the 51 percent mark. Nearly half of respondents said he was an “independent vote for Massachusetts” compared to 39 percent who said he spoke primarily for the Republican Party. The bottom line is, voters are more likely to view Brown favorably and see him as more in-tune with their own opinions than Warren. This contradicts the entire premise of running Warren — the idea was that a Republican was only able to win in the liberal state because voters didn’t have an exciting, competent, likable choice in the Democratic Party. But even though respondents view Warren favorably — her Cherokee problem apparently didn’t hurt her too much in that regard — they are less likely to agree with her politically. And that’s a huge concern for any Massachusetts Democrat.

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Cherokees Head to MA to Confront Warren

The Boston Herald reports on the looming showdown between angry Cherokee activists and Elizabeth Warren (h/t Legal Insurrection):

Four outraged Cherokee activists who say Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has ignored their emails and phone calls will trek to Boston this week in hopes they can force a meeting with the Democratic Senate candidate over her “offensive” Native American heritage claims.

“It’s almost becoming extremely offensive to us,” said Twila Barnes, a Cherokee genealogist who has researched Warren’s family tree. “We’re trying to get in contact and explain why her behavior hurts us and is offensive, and she totally ignores that. Like we don’t exist.”

Late last night, a Warren campaign official told the Herald that staffers will “connect” and “offer to have staff meet with them.”

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The Boston Herald reports on the looming showdown between angry Cherokee activists and Elizabeth Warren (h/t Legal Insurrection):

Four outraged Cherokee activists who say Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has ignored their emails and phone calls will trek to Boston this week in hopes they can force a meeting with the Democratic Senate candidate over her “offensive” Native American heritage claims.

“It’s almost becoming extremely offensive to us,” said Twila Barnes, a Cherokee genealogist who has researched Warren’s family tree. “We’re trying to get in contact and explain why her behavior hurts us and is offensive, and she totally ignores that. Like we don’t exist.”

Late last night, a Warren campaign official told the Herald that staffers will “connect” and “offer to have staff meet with them.”

Warren isn’t doing herself any favors by playing aloof and refusing to meet with them, though she might feel she has no other choice. These are actual tribe members with experience researching genealogy. How can she look them in the eye and claim to have a family ancestry that is not backed up by the facts?

You might be wondering whether the Cherokee activists in this showdown are politically motivated, as this seems like too much of a gift to Sen. Brown’s campaign to be a coincidence. But it actually looks like the woman leading the group, amateur genealogist Twila Barnes, has been an active critic of false Cherokee ancestry claims for years. Her blog, “Thoughts From Polly’s Granddaughter,” has focused on the issue of “wannabe” Cherokees since 2009. One post from December 2010 explains the fake Cherokee phenomenon, and it sounds remarkably familiar if you’ve been following the Elizabeth Warren controversy:

These are the people who refuse to accept evidence that flies in the face of their family story. You can show them documentation from where their “Cherokee ancestor” arrived on the boat from England, yet they still insist this ancestor was Cherokee. You can show them that their ancestors were always listed as white in the records, but they insist the records were wrong, citing they were “whitewashed” or their full blood ancestor “passed for white”. …

Hopefully you are getting the point. A wannabe is someone who just won’t give up the family story, no matter how absurd. They claim to be Cherokee no matter what and no one will ever be able to convince them otherwise because they so desperately “wannabe” Cherokee.

Please don’t be a wannabe. Adhere to the Standards for Sound Genealogical Practices and only claim the things you can verify with supporting evidence.

That’s good advice for anyone, particularly wannabe senators.

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Warren’s Indian Problem Isn’t Going Away

Genealogy has become a popular American pastime, but it’s not one that Elizabeth Warren seems to be enjoying. The law professor turned Democratic Senate candidate has discovered to her displeasure that more attention is being paid to her somewhat tenuous claim to Native American ancestry and the use her academic employers made of this fiction than her attempt to defeat Massachusetts incumbent Scott Brown. The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta has compiled all the available evidence on the matter and found some facts that will comfort Warren and others that her critics will promote. But even after we have gotten to the bottom of this — and Franke-Ruta appears to have done so — that won’t solve her problem. Warren’s dilemma is more pressing than merely the irony of a “progressive” hoisted on the petard fashioned by the left.

Warren is vulnerable on this score not just because it is amusing to see a liberal squirm after being called out for masquerading as a minority. Rather it is the fact that she’s a relative newcomer to politics and this controversy is helping to define her. Though she’s right that this is a distraction from the issues, having entered the public imagination as the object of popular scorn in this fashion, it’s going to be difficult for her to shake this image of faux Indian in the next six months.

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Genealogy has become a popular American pastime, but it’s not one that Elizabeth Warren seems to be enjoying. The law professor turned Democratic Senate candidate has discovered to her displeasure that more attention is being paid to her somewhat tenuous claim to Native American ancestry and the use her academic employers made of this fiction than her attempt to defeat Massachusetts incumbent Scott Brown. The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta has compiled all the available evidence on the matter and found some facts that will comfort Warren and others that her critics will promote. But even after we have gotten to the bottom of this — and Franke-Ruta appears to have done so — that won’t solve her problem. Warren’s dilemma is more pressing than merely the irony of a “progressive” hoisted on the petard fashioned by the left.

Warren is vulnerable on this score not just because it is amusing to see a liberal squirm after being called out for masquerading as a minority. Rather it is the fact that she’s a relative newcomer to politics and this controversy is helping to define her. Though she’s right that this is a distraction from the issues, having entered the public imagination as the object of popular scorn in this fashion, it’s going to be difficult for her to shake this image of faux Indian in the next six months.

A fraudulent item in a biography can be a devastating blow to a political career, but it doesn’t have to be fatal, as one prominent example shows.

Just two years ago, a U.S. Senate race in neighboring Connecticut might well have been defined by such an issue. Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal was caught on something far worse than Warren’s belief that she was 1/32 Cherokee based on family lore and her grandfather’s high cheekbones. Blumenthal was caught on tape lying about having served in Vietnam. That’s more than just fibbing on a resume or treating family myths as fact. It’s about as low as you can get. Yet Blumenthal still breezed to victory and today sits in the U.S. Senate alongside a few members who actually did serve in Vietnam and does so without blushing.

Blumenthal was lucky to run in a blue state like Connecticut and he was even more fortunate that his opponent, pro wrestling mogul Linda McMahon (who is having another crack at the Senate this year as she seeks to replace the retiring Joe Lieberman) was widely seen as disreputable. But even with those favorable circumstances, the lie might have ended Blumenthal’s hopes but for one factor: he was a familiar and well-liked figure in the state. Having spent the previous 20 years running for and winning state-wide office as the longtime attorney general, it was easy for him to ask forgiveness from those who had already gotten to know and respect him. As a political novice, Warren can’t fall back on that same sense of trust.

As Franke-Ruta writes, there’s no evidence she used her fake Indian ancestry to gain entrance to schools or to win professorial posts. But her foolish determination to stick to her claim about having Native American heritage — even after, as Franke-Ruta also determines  — it became clear there is virtually no likelihood of it being true has given the story legs. And because the story solidified her public identity as the product of the academy rather than as an activist, it has helped turn this election into a town versus gown affair that is very much to her disadvantage.

Entering the public consciousness as a fraud, even a penny-ante fraud such as her mythical Cherokee forebears, may be a far greater burden for a politician to carry than even the revelation of a lie that is a case of moral turpitude as was true of Blumenthal. Unless Warren can fundamentally redefine the way voters think about her in the coming months, it appears the Democrats’ hope of retaking Ted Kennedy’s old seat was lost on the “Trail of Tears,” and not in Massachusetts.

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