WASHINGTON — The venues for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s book tour have been decidedly favorable. No Fox interviews for her, no Rush Limbaugh, and very few tough questions.
A recent segment on “The View’’ hosted by Barbara Walters managed to show off pleasant black-and-white pictures of Warren’s family, raise the prospect of a Warren presidential run, and also discuss her Harvard law professor husband’s good legs.
Warren’s softball media tour has made her and her populist message nearly ubiquitous on major media outlets in recent days. The Massachusetts Democrat has gone both highbrow and lowbrow, serious and comic: a front-page story in USA Today, a full-page ad in The New York Times, a lengthy “CBS Sunday Morning” interview, and segments on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, and “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer,” to name a few.
The five-minute segment on “The View” concluded with Jenny McCarthy, the former Playmate of the Year and controversial autism advocate, touching Warren enthusiastically on the shoulder as the senator discussed her work in creating a federal consumer agency.
“Wow, wow, you’re awesome!” gushed McCarthy, a panelist on the daytime gabfest.
But even while the news is glowing, it may be fleeting, given the short shelf life many political books have.
Warren’s memoir, “A Fighting Chance,’’ has benefited from a canny media strategy and some luck in the form of a relatively slow news week, while Congress is in recess, after its release earlier this month. Beyond making her some money, estimated by some specialists to include a $1 million advance, the book is allowing the freshman senator to communicate with her biggest audience since she addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Nearly every interviewer has speculated that Warren might run for president, which she flatly denies. But the exposure and the warm presentation of her life story and policy goals will no doubt set her up for a run if she changes her mind. The book also allows Warren to further push Democrats toward her anti-Wall Street agenda and burnish her image as the leader of the party’s populist wing nationally.
Plus, cross-promotion opportunities abound. A fund-raising e-mail sent out by Warren on Tuesday promised that 10 lucky donors would get a signed copy of the book, while a liberal political group that promotes the “Elizabeth Warren Wing” of the Democratic Party has started a book club around her memoir.
Joe Scarborough playfully asked cohost Mika Brzezinski if she had yet written a check for Warren’s presidential campaign. Stewart, the comedian, may have posed one of the toughest questions on the tour so far, asking Warren why she supports repealing a tax on medical devices meant to help pay for President Obama’s health care law.
Warren, venturing into serious policy, said that she does not support any special taxes on manufacturing, and that Congress needs to find a way to replace the money.
This may be Warren’s moment. But recent history is littered with politicians who have been bounced up by big book tours only to see their books — and sometimes their political stature — wind up in the remainder bin. Senator Marco Rubio’s 2012 memoir “An American Son” was not in many Easter gift baskets this year. Same goes for recent treatises by Governor Rick Perry of Texas, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, and others with big names and big media tours. Even as former Senator Scott Brown appeared on “60 Minutes” to promote his memoir, “Against All Odds” lasted only a few weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 2011.
“Obama is far and away the biggest exception,” said Jim Milliot, editorial director of Publishers Weekly.
His two books were the rare political memoirs that both sold extremely well and helped build a national brand for a politician. Obama’s book sale income peaked at $5.5 million in 2009, his first year in the White House, according to his tax return.
Despite the mixed results of political books, Milliot said, publishers are eager to release books from potential presidential candidates because they have a platform that can break through to an oversaturated media. Candidates often use a book either to promote a presidential run or to cash in at the end of a political career.
Milliot said Warren’s publicity tour is in line with other big political authors, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who published a memoir last year. But he predicts that forthcoming books by former treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, due out next month, and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, due in June, will squeeze out any remaining attention on Warren. In addition to getting a leg up on marketing, Warren was also able to get the first word in on her personal and policy battles with Geithner, with whom she sparred while both worked for Obama.
Warren’s press strategy as a senator has dovetailed nicely with her publicity tour. She tends to stay off of national television unless she is pitching something specific, like a bill proposal. That has allowed her to keep the discussion focused on topics she prefers to discuss, rather than being forced to react to whatever the daily political controversy is.
During the book tour, she has answered questions mostly about her hardscrabble upbringing and her populist ideas, including a recent push to lower the burden of student loan borrowing costs. She is not usually asked about the questions that surfaced during her campaign about her Native American heritage.
In the recent interviews, her tone is folksy, with the g’s at the end of some words dropped, a speaking style she usually avoids on the Senate floor. When asked whether she will run for president, Warren almost always sticks to a variation of a scripted answer, steering the conversation to her life story and the fight for the middle class.
“I’m not running for president. You can ask it lots of different ways,” she told “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Mark Strassmann. “But I wrote this book because we can’t wait longer. It’s written out of gratitude for my start and the opportunities that America built for me.”