Thursday, February 02, 2012

Campaign Caution or Cowardice?

It must be close to impossible for a progressive sort not to like Elizabeth Warren's candidacy for U.S. Senate. Think of John Stewart playing off her charm long before the race when she was pitching the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on his show (8:08 in). To her enthusiastic argument, he said, "When you explain it like that, I know your husband's backstage, but I still want to make out with you."

The other two candidates still in the contest for the Democratic nomination are not so charmed. In particular, as they take their small budgets and big ideas from one public event to another, she is absent but always a force. When there were seven and now the three, her campaign cancelled or blew off one group appearance after another. Assuming she shows for one on Cape Cod next month, that will be the only one before the party convention in June in Springfield.

That attitude is understandable, expedient, and to Jim King and Marisa DeFranco, infuriating. I heard that clearly two days ago at the candidate forum at Boston Latin School run by the Help Youth Vote! Coalition there. They showed while Warren's campaign was unable to attend so far has yet to come up with alternative dates.

At the student meet-and-greet lines and semicircles before the formal event, each candidate noted they were there, they believed in democracy, they were willing to debate their platforms.

The Why Not

Conventional political wisdom has it not to waste time and risk blunders unnecessarily. Warren has gotten tote bags full of endorsements. Her contributions are in the millions while King and DeFranco's are in the thousands of dollars.

All three candidates have jobs with important, productive tasks to perform. Yet two of them manage to schedule themselves so they can appear at these quasi-debate thingummies at colleges, high schools and other public places.

To them, Warren is being cowardly and disrespectful of the democratic process. I surmise that her campaign figures it's smart politicking.

DeFranco is bluntest about it. Her website splash opens with a press release headlined U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE MARISA DEFRANCO CALLS ON PROFESSOR WARREN TO STOP DUCKING DEBATES AND FORUMS.

The release details cancelled appearances. It reads in part:
Public debate is a critical part of the electoral process. Debates provide voters with the opportunity to see their potential nominees in an unscripted setting. They also require candidates to address issues beyond sound bites and talking points. And they give voters a chance to see how well candidates perform under pressure.
We can set aside first that these short-answer fora are not true debates (as well as the cutesy Professor Warren in the headline). Yet I am pretty sure that even big fans would prefer that Warren overruled her handlers here.

She's doing a lot of appearances, but as the solo act. She lets those work with her media and advertising. That's safe and has gotten correspondingly boring.

In that vein, both King and DeFranco had views on the role of money in positioning for the race. She is a big supporter of public financing of campaigns. He questions out-of-state contributions. Both are aghast at the Citizens United SCOTUS decision legalizing unlimited, secret campaign contributions and expenditures, euphemistically billed as free speech. Also, both said they did not and would not take super-PAC and special interest donations, while Warren did.

He said that "Both Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren have raised a bundle of money...and that's good for them." He called for an accounting of how much was out of state and how much tied to businesses.

DeFranco remained both confident and defiant. As she put it, "Money does not win elections." She cited her higher poll numbers when there were seven in the race and she was outspent 10:1 or 100:1. "Make your decision on the candidate who can actually beat Scott Brown on ideas and that's me."

Nonetheless, Warren is likely to appear on a dais only one more time with King and DeFranco. That seems like an odd attitude for someone who presents so well, who is a champion orator going back to high school, and who has thought about virtually every important idea big or wee related to this campaign.

Yet trying to pin the coward label on candidates doesn't often get traction. Here in Boston, I think of Maura Hennigan's attack ad against Mayor Tom Menino in 2005. She went after him for ducking her during the campaign. As true as that may have been, she still got skunked.

Surely if Warren becomes the Dem nominee, with or without a primary, she and Brown will go head-to-head more than once before November. Having seen her in action as well as on TV and had her on Left Ahead, I'd put my money on her without question.

Meanwhile, you have to wonder whether mixing it up with King and DeFranco now might not be good practice.

Others have suggested that one or both of them might not get the 10,000 signatures in about 10 weeks required by state law to advance to the convention. In Spingfield, they'd each have to receive the vote of 15% of the delegates (around 750) to advance to the primary at the beginning of September. Before those occur, would appearing with them give them more legitimacy than not doing so?

Regardless, everyone but Warren's camp is likely to agree this smells bad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Important, productive tasks to perform? B.S. If King and DeFranco wanted to accomplish anything, they'd stop wasting everyone's time and go do something useful. These are vanity campaigns, pure and simple.