For a few brief moments on Saturday, Elizabeth Warren seemed to forget where she was. Crowded into a union hall plastered with campaign signs, she made her case against Scott Brown. “The people of Massachusetts are not taking Scott Brown, they’re taking Jeanne Shaheen!” she said — the Concord crowd liked her enough that they cheered anyway — before catching herself. “Sorry about that! Sorry about that!”
The error was easy enough to understand. Two years ago, as a novice to electoral politics, Warren defeated Brown in the Senate race in Massachusetts. Now, as one of the most sought-after surrogates in the Democratic party, she had been called upon to campaign against him again, this time next door in New Hampshire in the final days of his tight Senate race against the state’s freshman Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.
“I’ve got to say — it did not cross my mind that after beating Scott Brown,” Warren said, pausing for laughs, “that what he would do is he would pack up his pickup truck and move to his vacation home in New Hampshire to become the candidate to run against Jeanne Shaheen.” She delivered some variation of this line three times Saturday, first to a group of mostly older voters at the University of New Hampshire (there was football tailgating going on at the same time), then to rallygoers at the union hall in Concord, and finally in an auditorium full of students in Keene. Each time it killed. “When I first saw this, my first thought was, Yeah, you can pack up your pickup truck,’’ she continued in Concord, “but I don’t care how fast you drive it: You’re not going to outrun your voting record in the United States Senate.”
When Scott Brown first began hinting that he would run for Senate from New Hampshire six months ago, only two years after losing the Massachusetts Senate seat to Elizabeth Warren, many of Washington’s professional opinion-havers regarded his campaign with considerable skepticism. First, there was the question of his border crossing. Stu Rothenberg, longtime political handicapper and author of the Rothenberg Political Report, wrote that Brown needed “to splash some cold water on his face, swallow a stiff drink and embrace the obvious: It’s a stupid idea … He represented the people of Massachusetts in the Senate and he’d look like someone without principles — a carpetbagger who was more interested in his own career than in the country’s future — if he tried to move on to New Hampshire.” Markos Moulitsas, a columnist for the Hill and founder of Daily Kos, said, “[i]t’s clear that Brown’s Massachusetts roots are proving an impediment to his candidacy.” That wasn’t all. Jeanne Shaheen, the first woman to serve as both governor and senator of a state in U.S. history, was really popular — and she remains well liked now, even as the polls are showing her somewhere between tied and four points ahead of Brown, down from double-digit leads this summer. This is, to put it lightly, not the position an incumbent wants to find herself in two weeks before the election, especially in a year when Democrats are struggling in red states around the country.
Now, no matter how well Scott Brown does on Election Day, he is poised to make history: either as the first politician to be elected senator from two different states in nearly a century and a half, or, as Shaheen hopes, as the first to run in two states and be defeated by two women. So Shaheen called Warren and asked her to join her on the stump.
Warren was only returning the favor. Onstage, she told voters how Shaheen would regularly counsel her on the phone when she ran two years ago, how she came to Massachusetts and met with local families and small businesses. “She’s part of the reason why I beat Scott Brown by seven and a half points!”
Warren, cheering, pumping her fists over her head, seemed to be relishing the enthusiasm she was drumming up for Shaheen. This year, the freshman senator has become, aside from the Clintons, the biggest ticket on the Democratic campaign trail, raising money and rallying the progressive base in places in ways the president can’t (generally because he hasn’t been invited).
On Saturday, Warren hammered Brown for voting against equal-pay legislation and pro-choice Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s confirmation, and for co-sponsoring the Blunt amendment, or “conscience clause,” that would have allowed employers to deny birth-control coverage on religious grounds. She talked about his votes against a Democratic student loans and jobs bills, and his connections to Wall Street.
But the race remains much tighter than conventional wisdom would have allowed a few months ago, proving that Scott Brown’s change of residence hasn’t been a disqualifier for New Hampshire voters. Partly that is because about 60 percent of the state’s residents have moved here from elsewhere. “A lot of people are from other states — that might have something to do with it,” said Nancy Murphy, a Shaheen supporter at the rally in Durham that morning. Murphy runs a medical billing service in Epping, New Hampshire, but is originally from Massachusetts. “But I don’t think Scott Brown understands New Hampshire. I don’t understand it, and I’ve been here for 30 years!”
New Hampshire has more independents than registered Republicans or Democrats, but the libertarian leanings of the state have been more favorable to Republicans lately, especially in the years when the president is not on the ballot. Obama’s approval rating is low here, at 37 percent, and Scott Brown has marshaled broader cultural anxieties into points of attack, evoking ISIS in campaign ads and blaming Shaheen and Obama jointly for failing to protect the border and not having a better plan to deal with Ebola. The strategy created some awkward moments for Brown, though — he was mocked for arguing that “we would not be worrying about Ebola right now” if Mitt Romney were president, and saying that “it’s naive to think that people aren’t going to be walking through here who have those types of diseases and/or other types of intent, criminal or terrorist.”
On the trail yesterday, Shaheen tried to respond with an appeal to her constituents’ higher instincts. “We face some serious challenges, from immigration to ISIS to Ebola, and it takes serious-minded people to address those challenges,” she said. “New Hampshire deserves better than Scott Brown’s fear-mongering and grandstanding.”
In one of their debates last week, Shaheen was asked to say whether she approved or disapproved of the president. “In some ways I approve; in some things I don’t approve,” she said. “Like most questions we deal with as policymakers, there aren’t simple answers, yes or no.” Two days later, she was asked if she wanted Obama to come campaign for her. “The fact is he’s busy in Washington. He’s dealing with the Ebola threat; he’s dealing with the threat from ISIS,” she said. “I think he’s exactly where he needs to be.”
Conservatives picked up on the two sound bites from their debates last week because they play into the Republican attack that Shaheen is a rubber stamp for Obama. (At a recent campaign event, Brown was so eager to tie the two together that he told reporters that Shaheen voted with Obama “over 100 percent of the time.”) Her answers may have been dodges, but they are dodges that are hard for most people to disagree with. She isn’t running away from her votes. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I don’t care how many ads Karl Rove and the Koch brothers run against me. I will never stop fighting for affordable health care for all the people of New Hampshire,” she told the crowds.
She’s about to find out whether voters will reward her for it. After her Durham event, she told me it was great to be back on the campaign trail with Warren. Still, she said, it was a little unexpected: “I never thought Scott Brown would move across the border and try to run here.”