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Joan Vennochi

The preseason hype on Elizabeth Warren

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / October 2, 2011

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THE BEST Team Ever just failed to reach the playoffs. What can that exquisitely awful Red Sox collapse tell us about Elizabeth Warren, the best candidate the White House thinks it can run against Republican Senator Scott Brown?

Victory doesn’t happen in theory; it happens when one side scores more runs or votes than the other.

The local Democratic establishment, guided by Washington Democrats from President Obama to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is now betting on Warren’s ability to do what the Sox couldn’t. In baseball, the other teams still show up to play, even after Sports Illustrated picks the World Series winner during spring training. But in politics, the party’s early crowning of a champion winnows the primary field.

Last week, Newton Mayor Setti Warren dropped out, because, he said, “I no longer believe I have a clear path to victory in this race.’’ Other Democrats insist they’re staying in, but it’s going to be tough.

Ultimately, voters will decide who wins the first round and then goes onto challenge Brown in the general election. But by the time Warren’s name comes up on a ballot, the race will be shaped by forces that have little to do with “the people.’’

It’s already happening. The spotlight is trained on Warren, the Harvard law professor who got into this US Senate race because Obama didn’t nominate her to run the consumer protection agency she set up for him.

An inner circle of wealthy donors decides who gets their blessing and money - and Warren will easily win that “wealth’’ primary. The press decides who gets coverage - and most of it is already Elizabeth Warren-centric. Liberal bloggers, meanwhile, can’t stop fawning over her. Endorsements are going her way, minus the usual process of giving all candidates a chance to make their case.

It’s happening on the weight of Warren’s well-delivered Labor Day breakfast speech; an interview with Rachel Maddow that was so friendly that the MSNBC host began it by congratulating the candidate for getting into the race; and a video clip circulated by Democratic activists which shows Warren waxing eloquent about the “social compact.’’ Be still my liberal heart.

This rush to judgment puts tremendous political and financial pressure on other Democrats who are not just being pushed aside, but insulted as inconsequential gnats.

These people did not need a special White House invitation to run: Thomas P. Conroy, a state representative; Marisa DeFranco, a North Shore lawyer; Alan Khazei, cofounder of a national service program and past US Senate candidate; Bob Massie, a former candidate for lieutenant governor and longtime progressive activist; and Herb Robinson, a software engineer. Each had the audacity to believe that an open Democratic primary meant exactly that. And if they are not household names, neither was Brown, when he won the Senate seat that Democrats are now so hot to win back.

Warren is smart, articulate, and pugnacious. On the strength of her record and performance so far, Sports Illustrated would surely pick her to win the primary. She may also be “the one’’ to take down Brown, and become the first woman Massachusetts sends to the US Senate. Brown is losing that aura of invincibility, and it will take more than shrugging back into a barn jacket to regain it. Headlining the annual Funniest Celebrity in Washington competition won’t do it either. Once up against Warren’s brainpower, he’ll need more than one-liners from campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom.

But there’s still something creepy about Warren’s Washington-produced candidacy. At a Manchester, N.H., event last week, Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod cited Warren’s fierce advocacy for the middle class and said he expected her to be the nominee. Of course, the Obama White House also concluded that Warren’s fierce advocacy made her unconfirmable in the Senate.

So far in Massachusetts, she’s delivering music to liberal ears. She may keep on hitting home runs, like Adrian Gonzalez in the first part of the Sox season. Then comes crunch time.

That’s when Democrats who engineered the perfect candidate will find out how perfectly she plays on the field.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.