Elizabeth Warren is a Democrat running for US Senate in Massachusetts, but the challenge she will face this election year was typified in the native-son greeting given to Scott Brown as the Republican incumbent was embraced at this year’s South Boston St. Patrick’s Day political roast.
Brown sat center stage, next to the podium, while Warren sat a row behind and outside the range of the head-on television shot. His eldest daughter, Ayla, was made part of the program, singing “God Bless America” even before Warren was given a chance to speak.
Brown also got to speak at the top of the program, when the audience is presumably largest, while Warren got to speak toward the end, a time when many Southie residents head out to their annual parade down Broadway.
Organizers said incumbents are usually shown such deference, yet when it came time to speak, Warren overcame the obstacles.
She delivered a routine that made fun of herself, the Massachusetts political scene, and Brown himself. Observers who had seen her last week at similar roasts in Lowell and Quincy said she obviously saved her best material for her biggest audience and most potent political measuring stick.
“I actually heard that Scott Brown’s barn jacket cost $600. Wow, here’s a guy who could use a consumer advocate,” Warren said to laughter.
The first-time candidate also joked that she had learned things change fast in politics.
“For instance, one day Scott Brown is a centerfold for Cosmopolitian. The next day, he’s a posterboy for Goldman Sachs,” the Wall Street critic said, highlighting the source of some of the senator’s campaign donations.
During her four-and-a-half minute routine, Warren also tweaked Brown and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for their good looks.
“Where do Republicans find these good-looking guys,” Warren asked. “Is it the L.L. Bean catalogue or what? It’s hard on folks like me.”
Brown, the day’s second speaker, told a couple of jokes that seemed to resonate the best in the Twitterverse. He also showed a veteran’s touch at the event, arriving early, shaking hands repeatedly, and bringing along his wife — former Boston television reporter Gail Huff — and his two daughters.
In one of his jokes, which Huff said the senator tried out on his family Saturday night, Brown noted that Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum now are under watch by the Secret Service.
Knocking the father of seven, Brown added: “In Santorum’s case, I think it’s the first time he’s actually ever used protection.”
The senator even tweaked Romney, now a Republican presidential candidate served by some of the same political advisers, saying his trademark pickup truck now has 230,000 miles on it but “Governor Romney was nice enough to give me one of his Cadillacs, so we’re all set.”
Of Warren, the senator made several jokes stemming the elitist label he and his staff attempt to pin on her almost daily.
“I hope you didn’t get lost leaving Cambridge again today,” Brown said as Warren listened and laughed.
He quipped that Warren also insisted she was no elitist, and to back it up, said to him, “I’ll bet you a bottle of Dom Perignon that’s not true.”
Brown, among the few Republicans in the room, also drew a mixed reaction when he joked about former House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, serving time on a federal corruption conviction, and current House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whose support for a godson becoming a chief probation officer has prompted speculation he might be involved in state and federal investigations of the department’s practices.
“Sal is a lot like John Kerry’s yacht; he’s been spending a lot of time in Rhode Island lately,” the senator said, referencing both the place where his colleague initially tried to register his boat and where the former speaker has been held while testifying before a grand jury.
Turning to DeLeo, sitting several seats down the dais, Brown said people don’t really believe he’s the speaker “because until you hear the words, ‘You have the right to remain silent,’ they don’t know if you’re the speaker. So, good luck with that.”
Joseph P. Kennedy III, a member of a famed political family nonetheless making his first run for elective office, suffered a series of barbs aimed at his relative youth: He is 31.
Kennedy poked fun at himself by opening his remarks by saying, “I’m very sorry to be late; my mom made me promise to clean my room before I came.”
Perhaps the politician with the most at stake, though, was Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray. He was involved in a car crash last fall while, he said, surveying storm damage at 108 miles per hour in the predawn darkness.
Nonetheless, Murray embraced his role as the butt of numerous jokes by showing up in a crash helmet and racing jacket.
Murray noted he had been allowed to speak first at the breakfast “because I got to be in Holyoke for their parade in about 15 minutes.”
As laughter filled the room over a reference to the nearly 100-mile trip, Murray poured it on by saying, “But I wouldn’t worry about, because this morning, as acting governor, I signed an executive order raising the speed limit to 108 miles per hour.”
Murray also said that contrary to rumors, NASCAR driver Danica Patrick “was not in the car with me the morning of my accident. Actually, she was the pace car in front of me.”
The lieutenant governor could not get away from the podium without a parting shot from the breakfast’s host, South Boston state Senator Jack Hart.
He said the youthful-looking Murray survived for one reason: “He was sitting in his car seat, and he had a teddy bear on his lap. That’s going to soften the blow a little bit.”Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.