After “We Screwed Up,” Massachusetts Democrats Are Fighting Hard for Ted Kennedy’s Seat

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Aug. 17 2012 5:38 PM

Where We’re Going, We Need Roads

In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren glad-hands while Scott Brown grunts.

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“The truth of the matter is, we screwed that up,” Walsh said. “I take responsibility for it. We took the race for granted. I could try and justify it. Scott Brown was sort of a no-account state legislator. Been there for a dozen years, he never passed any legislation. But that’s a terrible excuse for doing something you should never do, and that’s take the race for granted.” And they lost Ted Kennedy’s seat.

Warren never gives the impression that she’s coasting. On Tuesday, before she got to Quincy, she campaigned at a bar and grill in Dorchester, giving out the kind of hugs you typically see when a mom sees her kid come off the plane after a long semester. She learned that a tot is five years old and offered her a high-five.

Waiting in the main dining room were activists who’d been backing Warren for months. “I’m probably the only person who can say I’ve had Courtney Love and Elizabeth Warren in my house,” said Joyce Linehan. (She used to work for Sub Pop records.) “I’m an Irish-American working-class woman, born in this neighborhood, and I couldn’t identify with Brown if he was the last man on earth.”

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Warren’s speech in Dorchester was short, all contrast-building with the Ryan plan. “I’ll tell you,” she said, “I never thought I would run for office, but when there’s a vision like that—and it’s put forward as the serious vision of the Republican party—then it’s time for all of us to get involved in this race.”

As Warren heads to Quincy, Brown attempts to take back the advantage on taxes. His speech to the South Shore Chamber of Commerce is billed as a “major policy address” on taxes. It becomes, basically, a campaign speech accusing Warren of supporting “the largest tax increase since World War II” (a scary-sounding way to describe the plan that Barack Obama ran on in 2008), and deriding her for not voluntarily paying higher taxes. He takes no questions, but he has turned the story of the day into a “spat.” In Quincy, Warren pauses during the construction-site visit to answer a press corps that wants her rebuttal to Brown.

“He called you a job destroyer,” says one reporter.

“I’m sorry—job destroyer?” says Warren. “We were just talking about how many jobs were created by investments in infrastructure.”

“They said they tallied up all the tax increases you support,” notes another reporter, “and they say they came up with $3.4 trillion over the past decade. They have a list that they’ve been emailing out.”

Warren responds with an amused Are you kidding gasp. “This is just a made-up number,” she says.

“You say that, but they say they have this list.”

“Well, show me the list. Do we have to go through this? This is a made-up number. The interesting question is why, right now. I think Scott Brown is very worried about this race. And the reason he’s worried is that when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, the economic issues clicked into place.”

But if the Cherokee-and-trucks stage of the campaign is over, does that mean Warren is winning it? That’s what the pre-emptive attacks on Warren’s DNC speech were about—portraying her as a spiteful enemy of business, whose YouTube’d speech about what business owners owe to government inspired the damaging Barack Obama riff on the same subject.

“Do you have any second thoughts about your famous YouTube video?” a reporter asks. “They go back to that again and again.”

“No,” says Warren. She lets the comment hang in midair.

“Why not?”

“Because I told the truth. And I’ll tell it again.”

Out of nowhere, a construction worker slips into the press scrum to introduce his friends. It feels like Warren is getting bailed out. She was surviving all those tax questions, sure, but nothing makes her point like an ironworker with a thick Quincy accent telling her that he had to work on New York’s Freedom Tower because there wasn’t enough public spending in Massachusetts.

“I was out for over a year,” says Jim Lyons.

“Out for over a year?” asks Warren. “I want to hear that again. I want to make sure everybody heard that.”

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