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Dobbs is 'probably wrong'

Date: 5/29/2012

May 28, 2012

In the May 21, 2012 edition of The Reminder, managing editor G. Michael Dobbs wrote a column called "Warren operating on bad political advice." His argument is that whatever the facts of Warren's widely reported "Indian heritage" issue are, she should have employed the "classic public relations method of handling such an issue" by calling a "press conference to explain the idea that her family has such a heritage was more legend than fact and that she was sorry for allowing the claim to go public without corroborating documentation."

The conventional wisdom here is that the issue is a distraction that Warren needs to put behind her fast before it comes to define her candidacy. Dobbs' advice would be especially reasonable if Warren were a typical senate challenger, unknown, unconnected, and strapped for cash. Lucky for her, she ain't.

I have already "called" the race for Elizabeth Warren based on several fundamental dynamics that tilt the odds very heavily toward a Warren victory, the most important of which for present purposes is the polarized national political narrative that will dominate the 2012 election. The Native American heritage "scandal" hasn't yet altered this or any of these key dynamics nearly enough (if at all) to weaken Warren's chances. For a comprehensive analysis of all the determinative dynamics of this race, see my contributions to

But If Dobbs' assessment of Warren's advisors' competence is mistaken, then Warren's advisors must see something that Dobbs and many other folks analyzing this race do not see. I think I know what Warren's advisors see that makes them relatively unconcerned about this Indian heritage "problem." The dominant narrative in this race will not be the character and/or likability of the candidates. Unless one of them is indicted for a very serious crime or something equally shocking, the Brown-Warren senate race will almost certainly be framed (and perceived by voters) as part of the highly polarized national right versus left, red versus blue contest. Policy issues will crowd out "character" issues, making voters much more likely to vote a straight ticket, rather than splitting their votes between one party in the presidential race and the other party in House and/or Senate races.

Assuming at least 3 million voters turn out on Election Day, which is a conservative estimate, Brown can only win if several hundred thousand Obama voters decide to split their tickets. The harsh partisan tone that will certainly accompany the Obama-Romney contest in Massachusetts, as well as the recent spectacular failure of the "Americans Elect" effort to plant the flag of frustrated moderates on the polarized national partisan battlefield, are not encouraging signs for Brown.

The airwaves are presently filled with coverage of Warren's Indian heritage. The conservative echo chamber is cranking out nasty anti-Warren rants hourly, which are dutifully distributed by conservatives on social media sites, where the personal and angry nature of the attacks on Warren only magnify. Right wing ranters like the very popular radio host Howie Carr are dutifully translating the story into hyperbolic culture war terms with a not so subtle racist tinge guaranteed to excite the small but hearty conservative base in Massachusetts, but also to rally the left and alienate those all important moderate Obama voters (i.e. the ticket splitters without which Brown cannot win).

As long as Warren's advisors are confident that this fake scandal will not become a real one, which would explain their willingness to let it breathe, its continued percolation serves as a way to play out the clock; to stall until Warren's campaign becomes the primary beneficiary of the presidential election narrative coming to town.

Though I have absolutely no inside knowledge about what Warren's team knows about her heritage, I'm tempted to recall the way the Obama White House managed the so called "birther" attacks. After stonewalling for years the Obama White House simply made public the president's birth certificate.

The bottom line is that I think Dobbs' assessment is pre-mature at best and probably wrong. The key dynamics of this race, which are not the preferred topics of media coverage, favor Elizabeth Warren much more than people realize. By November, I expect Warren and President Obama to be happily joined at the hip and this Indian heritage story to be just another piece of red meat being flogged by partisan hacks to rally the conservative base.

Jerold Duquette

Central Connecticut State University

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