CANTON — I’ll admit I’ve been a little puzzled about Elizabeth Warren lately. Her campaign has seemed slow in responding to Scott Brown’s quicksilver, if not exactly principled, moves. Her ads have been good, but a little wonky, while Brown has gone all out on the family man theme, his laundry-folding now almost as famous as that truck.
Where, I wondered, has the excitement about Warren gone — the feeling many had last spring when she gobsmacked conventional wisdom hereabouts by announcing her run? I’ll tell you where — out on the trail. Warren, I can report, is a very, very, good campaigner.
At a retirement community in Canton on Thursday, a couple of hundred people sat entranced as the Democratic US Senate candidate delivered her lyrical stump speech.
They smiled when she described her modest beginnings, and her first baby-sitting job when she was 9 (it paid 35 cents an hour). They gasped when she said she was married at 19, and had her first baby at 22. They laughed when Warren told of using candy to potty train her daughter for day care so she could attend law school (“I’m here today thanks to three bags of M&Ms”).
They stayed with her when she warned that Republican Brown’s party will make it harder for families like hers to rise, and even when she ventured into wonkery to talk about infrastructure.
Afterward, they swarmed Warren, and the candidate squeezed every hand, listening closely and smiling as starstruck people wished her luck. The same scenes played out in Malden and Beverly later in the day. She was preaching mostly to the choir, but even so, it’s clear that Warren, like Brown, has a gift for making genuine connections with voters.
Still, during a question-and-answer session in Canton, some were perplexed.
“Elizabeth, I’m concerned about your advertising,” said Roz Holt. “I learned many things about you I didn’t know today. Scott Brown talks about his family. . . . all the time.”
“I appreciate the comment,” Warren said. “It feels a little embarrassing to run ads that are saying, ‘Let me tell you all about me.’ . . . We are going to do it, but you probably won’t see me folding laundry.”
If even fans like these (two others raised similar concerns) feel that her personality isn’t coming through in ads and media coverage, Warren has a problem. With nine weeks to go before the election, she should overcome her embarrassment fast.
But even if her campaign floods the airwaves with her back story and charm, likeability will take her only so far. After all, Brown has a winning personality, too. That’s why Warren is trying so hard to tie Brown to national policies that are unpopular here.
“Scott Brown is part of a big Republican agenda,” she said in South Boston earlier in the day. “He may say the right thing some of the time, but the people of Massachusetts need someone they can count on all of the time.” If Brown’s smart TV spots (and his low profile at the Republican National Convention) are any indication, the senator, too, believes he’s vulnerable here: In them, three Democrats endorse him, putting distance between the senator and his party.
In Beverly, where he won handily in 2010, there was more to concern him. “I voted for Scott Brown because I thought he’d be something different,” said Mike Bovio, 59, who was leaving the train station as Warren greeted commuters. “He turned out to be more of the same, partisan politics.”
John Aiken, 52, a Republican, told Warren, “I’m so for you,” at a rally at Veterans Memorial Park. He said his party seemed too focused on “just the few,” and he was bothered by the way Republicans came after Warren “like a freight train” over consumer protections she helped put in place.
A few hundred thousand more like him, and Warren will be set.