As the tightly fought Senate race heads into its final two weeks, Elizabeth Warren has sharpened her emphasis on the national stakes of her campaign, arguing that the election is essential to determining which party controls the Senate.
It is a simple and direct appeal, intended to court Democratic- leaning voters who pay little attention to politics but are expected to cast ballots for President Obama and therefore may want a Senate that backs his policies.
Brown is closing with a promise to work across the aisle, calling himself one of the last of a dying breed of moderates who can break the gridlock in an increasingly polarized Washington. Brown’s message capitalizes on evidence in polls that voters are deeply frustrated with partisanship.
The pitches, highlighted in ads released in recent days and in speeches on the trail, are not departures for either candidate, though the heightened emphasis reflects the different challenges the candidates face in the last 14 days.
Warren, a Democrat, needs to hold on to core members of her party, while winning over those Democratic leaners who only come out every four years to vote for president. Brown, a Republican, needs to cobble together a more disparate coalition, including Republicans, independents, and hundreds of thousands of voters who plan to choose Obama for president.
Brown’s focus on bipartisanship has been part of his message since before Warren entered the race last year. But even as he continues to make that case, he has devoted many months to arguing that Warren is “not who she says she is.’’
There is little evidence that Brown will abandon that two-pronged strategy of boosting his own image as a bridge-builder while attacking her as a hypocrite. He currently has two ads on television, one calling attention to his record of bipartisanship and a second one questioning Warren’s work for a steel company that wanted to avoid paying into a settlement fund for retired coal miners.
The Brown campaign maintains that Warren’s inability to take control of the race, even as Obama leads by more than 20 percent in several polls of Massachusetts voters, shows voters are not ready to commit to her, even if they generally vote Democratic.
“Elizabeth Warren wants to run against anyone except Scott Brown because people know Scott has one of the most bipartisan records in the Senate and has been an independent voice for Massachusetts,’’ said campaign manager Jim Barnett. “That’s an inconvenient fact for the Warren campaign, so they have apparently decided they’re be better off trying to run against someone else.’’
The Warren campaign says its message is not simply contrasting the political parties, but also specific policy positions Brown has embraced, relating to jobs, the environment, taxes, and issues of pay and health care for women.
“There are real differences on real votes where Elizabeth would have voted differently,’’ counters Doug Rubin, Warren’s top strategist.
Women’s issues are a particularly important piece of that message, as polls often show that women are the biggest group of undecided voters.
For Brown, the attacks on Warren have carried some risk, jeopardizing the good-guy image that has made him popular. But Brown’s campaign has apparently made a calculation that Obama voters need to be convinced that Warren is not a palatable candidate.
Over the weekend, Brown received a hand from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who in an interview with the New York Times compared Warren’s philosophy with Soviet communism.
“You can question whether he’s too conservative,’’ Bloomberg, a Brown supporter and vociferous advocate of Wall Street said of the senator. “You can question, in my mind, whether she’s God’s gift to regulation, close the banks and get rid of corporate profits, and we’d all bring socialism back, or the USSR.’’
Warren has also attacked Brown, if less personally, with ads that paint him as an ally of the wealthy. She currently has one ad on the air emphasizing that the election could determine control of the Senate and another ad attacking Brown’s positions on issues that affect women.
Republicans would need to hold on to seats they currently hold, plus pick off a handful more from Democrats to gain control of the Senate.
Warren has consistently drawn policy differences with Brown, even as she spoke more fervently during earlier stages of the campaign about the middle class and an economic system she argues is rigged against it. Over the past week, Warren has spoken more in her public appearances about control of the Senate than she has about the middle class getting “hammered,’’ a frequent refrain of hers in earlier phases of the campaign.
But Rubin promises that that message will remain at Warren’s core in the final two weeks.
In recent days, both candidates have begun holding large rallies. Brown appeared with Senator John McCain of Arizona over the weekend in Melrose. He is expected to hold events with a number of prominent Republicans in the coming days, including Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey on Wednesday.
The rallies appear to be be a larger part of Warren’s overall strategy. She drew sizable crowds in Worcester, Beverly, and Northampton in weekend events with Democrats, including Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and former senator Max Cleland of Georgia. The rallies are intended not only to raise Warren’s visibility, but also to motivate supporters.
Both candidate say they will have a strong get-out-the-vote effort, though Democrats have long held a significant advantage in the state.
Polls have shown the candidates are close, with Warren possibly holding a small lead.
The Warren campaign puts the number of undecided voters between about 6 and 12 percent, depending on whether the group includes voters who are leaning toward one candidate. Brown aides are less willing to discuss such calculations.
Warren’s team believes that a large majority of those voters plan to support Obama, making the case about Senate control particularly effective.