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Brian McGrory

The politics of panic

When I saw that Elizabeth Warren was making a public appearance in Charlestown one morning this week, I raced over the bridge as fast as my balding little tires would carry me. The poor woman was undoubtedly withdrawing from the Senate race, and I wanted to bear witness to this sad moment.

If you watch TV, if you listen to the blabber-boys of talk radio, if you happen to read this newspaper or website, you know what’s going on: Warren is trailing by 8 and 9 percentage points to our heartthrob Republican senator in a fistful of recent polls, and everyone on planet Democrat is shocked and morose.


Left-leaning political strategists from all across this great land have their sweaty palms lingering over the panic button. Other assorted analysts are unfurling the white flag of surrender. They’re saying she needs a political makeover - new issues, new eyeglasses, new everything - if she wants any chance of even a respectable defeat.

But when I walked into Zume’s Coffee House, it didn’t look like Warren had read the script. Actually, what she was reading was the riot act. She was going after predatory banks and their larcenous practice of tacking fees onto just about everything under the sun. And an intimate - OK, small - group of potential voters was lapping it all up.

Then something dawned on me, the same thought that struck me later that day as I stood in a Plymouth restaurant jammed with locals who gathered on short notice to hear Warren speak. Granted, my thought may not be profound, but it is relevant, so here goes: It’s March.

March, as in, it’s nearly three full seasons and eight long months away from Election Day. March, as in, there’s not a single, normal, mortgage-paying, bill-fearing resident of this entire Commonwealth who wakes up in the morning thinking about this Senate race.


Here’s what hasn’t really happened yet at this point in the campaign: the campaigning. There have been no debates. There have been no real air wars. There has been little pressure applied to either Warren or Republican Scott Brown to test their poise under pressure.

That apparently doesn’t matter. The pollsters are in the field, the cognoscenti are reacting, and panic among Democrats is the way of the day.

For whatever it’s worth, I know and even like many of these consultants and strategists. They are some of the same people who whispered that Martha Coakley was a shoo-in two years ago and told her to stay out of sight. They’re the ones who said Barack Obama’s presidency was basically finished after Brown’s victory, and Brown would be a senator for life. They are the ones who were renting tuxedos and buying inaugural gowns seconds after Warren entered the race.

They are, and I hope they don’t take this personally, ridiculous. Actually, allow me to clean that up. They are good people with a penchant to act ridiculous, or at least ahistorical, which allows them to forget all their mistakes of five minutes before. They should get themselves a Fribble, read a long book, and check back come September.

I have no idea who will win this race. I have no idea yet who deserves to win this race. This is why we have the race, to get to know the candidates, to see how they act and react, and allow them the time to make their case.


Still, I can’t not make one small point. Warren arrived about 20 minutes late to the Plymouth event, then addressed the crowd for a grand total of five minutes. She took no questions. She never rose beyond red meat slogans that tilted toward platitudes. It had the feeling of a Ferrari in the slow lane, and she needs to change that in due time.

For now, dear voters, do yourselves one small favor: Ignore the pollsters and blathering analysts and let the campaign unfold.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.