Warren for Senate?

Washington bigwigs love the idea, but Massachusetts insiders aren’t convinced — at least not yet
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  July 29, 2011

THAT SPECIAL SOMEONE? Elizabeth Warren has developed a following among national progressives. Can she translate that support into a win against populist GOP hero Scott Brown? 

As soon as President Barack Obama began waffling about naming Elizabeth Warren director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Democratic rumor mill began churning about Warren as a potential 2012 challenger to Republican US Senator Scott Brown.

Now that her non-appointment is official, and the 62-year-old Warren is heading back to resume teaching at Harvard Law School, the talk has intensified. For the last two weeks, it has been topic number one among the Bay State's chattering classes.

For a policy wonk with no experience running for public office, that is quite a tribute. But it is also a measure of the unease in Democratic circles about the current crop of candidates vying to take on Brown.

That's not to say those candidates don't have their fans. City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, trying again after finishing a distant third in the special election primary two years ago, has raised nearly a million dollars. Newton Mayor Setti Warren is well-liked, although hurt by weak early fundraising. Bob Massie, Tom Conroy, and Jim King each have support as well.

But Elizabeth Warren has something they lack: a positive national-media profile that would immediately attract campaign contributions from all over the country. She would also excite an army of populist-minded progressives who love her tough talk about the evils of financial institutions, and the need for more regulation.

Political gossipers like to say, when talking about an incumbent like Brown, that you can't beat somebody with nobody. The implication of all the Warren hype, fair or not, is that she is somebody — and the others are not.

Warren has helped fuel the fire, granting interviews to everyone from the Dow Jones Newswire to New York magazine. She has meanwhile been talked up as a potential candidate by Senate Democrats Harry Reid of Nevada and Patty Murray of Washington. The national progressive blogosphere, which has gushed over her as a vocal Wall Street critic and champion of financial reform, is mostly thrilled with the idea of her taking on Brown; the Washington-based Progressive Change Campaign Committee has run "Draft Warren" ads online, and claims to have collected over $30,000 in donations that will go to Warren if she runs.

Conversations with Bay State Democratic operatives, however, suggest a certain level of resistance, if not outright hostility, from the local political establishment.

In fact, the prevailing attitude, even from those not yet aligned with any Senate candidate, is that the Warren buzz is a purely Washington creation. Specifically, they think the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) — which Murray chairs — is championing Warren, perhaps at the bidding of the White House, as compensation for not nominating her. (A DSCC spokesperson would not confirm or deny any contact with Warren, or activity on her behalf.)

"National is trying to force it down the throats of people in Massachusetts," says one advisor who has worked on several statewide Democratic campaigns.

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