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Elizabeth Warren’s debt disclosure reverberates in aftermath of Senate campaign exchanges

Senator Scott Brown shakes hands with Democrat Elizabeth Warren before their debate at Springfield Symphony Hall on Oct. 10.Elise Amendola/AP

When you are a candidate for political office, the most important objective - within limits (see: Cahill, Timothy P.) - is to win.

That would be the salve for any surprised supporters of Elizabeth Warren after they learned today that she ended up her recent US Senate campaign in debt - despite raising more than any other congressional candidate in the country this election cycle.

All told, the Harvard Law School professor took in $42 million for her first political campaign, far more than has ever been spent before on a US Senate race in Massachusetts.

Warren will have the breathing room of a six-year Senate term, as well as the power of incumbency (including a likely seat on the Senate Banking Committee), to retire whatever debt it is she has incurred. Her e-mail didn't explain the degree of red ink, although a campaign official later told the Globe it was $400,000 - 1 percent of the total she raised.

But the revelation reverberates regardless, given some of the exchanges during Warren's recent campaign with Senator Scott Brown, the Republican incumbent she defeated.


To wit:

-During their Oct. 1o debate in Springfield, Brown accused Warren of viewing tax increases as a panacea for all the country's ills, not a critique of her fund-raising practices but a suggestion she lacked discipline when it came to the expenditure side of a financial ledger.

"The one thing we can't be doing right now, in the middle of this 3 1/2-year recession, is by taking more money out of people's hard-working pocketbooks and wallets and giving it to the federal government," the senator said. "They're like pigs in a trough up there. They just take and take and take and take."

-During their first debate on Sept. 20 in Boston, Brown branded Warren as a tax-and-spend liberal.


"The first answer, every time, she's obsessed with raising taxes," the senator said in a criticism he would go on to repeat.

-Even as fund-raising reports showed her taking in more than Brown - or any other House or Senate candidate in the country, for that matter - Warren also showed she was a profligate spender.

A mid-October story in the Globe detailed how Warren had raised $12.12 million from July 1 through Sept. 30, dwarfing the $7.45 million raised by Brown.

The same story, though, also gave a sense of the Democrat's spending.

Warren had 130 paid staff members, including 80 workers who coordinated efforts to register voters and get them to the polls on Election Day. The campaign had 48 field offices in concert with the state Democratic Party, and had prepaid for more than $3 million in television ad time in the last three weeks of the race.

That was a hedge against last-minute price hikes.

The Brown campaign wouldn't give similar details about the scope of its organization, but it said it still had $10.2 million cash on hand - despite also pre-paying for final ads.

Warren, by contrast, had just $7.3 million in the bank.

In an e-mail today to supporters, Warren cast her debt in the most favorable light: the senator-elect said it was an outgrowth of a grassroots political structure. And she attributed her win - the foundation for succeeding in elective politics - to the strength of that organization.


"This extraordinary effort was wonderful and it's how we won, but it created some planning challenges," Warren wrote. "Thousands more volunteers showed up - and that meant even more last-minute coffee and pizza. And more people called in asking for help to get to the polls. We were delighted, but it meant we needed to rent dozens more vans to drive every last one of them to their voting places."

Warren then backed into her debt disclosure.

"One of the results of our embarrassment of riches was, well, I'll come out and say it - we ended up with a little bit of debt," she wrote, before asking for contributions.

John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, acquiesced in a tweet less than 20 minutes after the e-mail was sent.

"I just contributed to @elizabethforma. Please join me in helping pay for that remarkable #GOTV push," he wrote, using the acronym for get-out-the-vote.

If that was the key to Warren's electoral success, everyone now knows it came at a hefty price.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.