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joan vennochi

Warren must sell substance over flash

CAN REPUBLICAN Senator Scott Brown really pull off another quick getaway to Washington in his trusty pickup truck?

Agreed: Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren wasted millions on ads that turned her into every man’s worst nightmare: a smarter-than-thou older woman sporting granny glasses and sensible hair.

Bay Staters are tough on sisters who run for political office. Just ask Lois Pines, Evelyn Murphy, Jane Swift, Shannon O’Brien, Kerry Healey, or Martha Coakley. Over a span of 25 years, they were dismissed as too shrill, too stiff, too fat, too rich, or simply too uppity to shake hands with the average Sox fan. Such concerns never kept John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Mitt Romney, or Bill Weld out of office.


If Brown beats Warren, it will be another triumph of style over substance and fuzziness over clarity. The Warren camp is at fault for letting him get away with it. That, more than ads showing a woman behind a desk, is Warren’s biggest mistake.

Other Warren missteps are now woven into conventional political wisdom about this nationally watched Senate race, including still unaswered questions about her decision to “check the box” as a Native American in a law school directory.

Brown, meanwhile, has been given free rein to bamboozle voters via insipid radio “reports.” His opponent has failed to pull back the mask of bipartisanship and reveal reality — the senator’s concerted effort to hide his true political identity.

Nobody wants to send Warren to Washington strictly on the basis of support for abortion rights. But doesn’t honesty on that issue matter? Brown insists he is pro-choice, yet Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a leading antiabortion group, endorsed him. Raymond Flynn, a former Boston mayor and ambassador to the Vatican, also endorsed him, telling the Globe, “His heart is pro-life.”

Warren proudly addressed fellow Democrats in Charlotte. Brown is running a disinformation campaign, aimed at distancing himself from national Republicans and their far-right platform. He made only a brief appearance in Tampa. He downplayed a meeting with GOP strategist and super PAC architect Karl Rove that a Globe reporter stumbled upon.


Brown cherry-picks a few issues to show independence; his quick call for Representative Todd Akin of Missouri to withdraw from the US Senate race is a much-cited example. Warren is starting to argue more forcefully that a vote for Brown is a vote for the national Republican agenda. But where’s the side-by-side comparison of their already divergent views?

Among those differences, from the website www.diffen.com, and other sources:

She supported the Affordable Care Act; he opposed it.

She supports the DREAM Act and President Obama’s executive order to give work visas and relief from deportation to children of illegal immigrants; he opposes the DREAM act and Obama’s executive order.

She supports marriage equality; he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, but now opposes a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between “a man and woman.”

She supports a ban on assault weapons; Brown said such a bans should be left up to states.

She wants troops to come home from Afghanistan sooner rather than later; he supports the current withdrawal plan.

She wants to repeal the Bush tax cuts for those earning $250,000 or more; he voted against a Democratic proposal that called for tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans to expire but kept in place tax cuts for those making less than $250,000. He also voted against a Republican alternative to extend the cuts for all taxpayers.


She supports the “Buffett rule” requiring individuals earning more than $1 million to pay at least 30 percent in federal income taxes. He opposed the bill. Brown signed the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge but is open to raising revenue by closing loopholes.

Those are solid, substantive differences that should matter to Massachusetts voters. Instead, they are diverted by the same old superficial nonsense.

Brown is a good-looking guy with a lovely wife and daughters. Is that reason enough to send him back to Washington for a full Senate term?

Warren is dogged by the same questions that always dog women. Democratic consultant Dan Payne wonders about the whereabouts of her husband and other family members. And why is she wearing the same old red jacket?

No one asked that about Brown and his barn jacket.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@Joan_Vennochi.