Despite its enormous publicity, the Massachusetts’ race for US Senate between incumbent Senator Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren has not had a public poll conducted in nearly half a month. The last polls provided overwhelming evidence that the race was then (and probably currently as well) a tie. This is good news for Warren, who was down by as much as 17 points in some polls only three months ago.
Warren has benefited from receiving an unequivocal nomination from her party via 95 percent of the Massachusetts Democratic Convention’s delegates and from her recent influx of money. As a archetypical Democrat running in the liberal haven that is Massachusetts, she has been fully embraced the democratic political machine. Yet, the number one story out of this campaign has unquestionably been about questions concerning Warren’s heritage. Thus far, her candidacy has largely been defined by her self-identification as a Cherokee. This story quickly went from a scandalous accusation from the Boston Herald to a story that received widespread national attention.
The facts of the case seem to be relatively clear. Warren had, inspired and informed via family lore, self-identified as a Cherokee for her entire life. Her ensuing actions reflect someone of that mindset: she had a hand in writing a Cherokee cookbook and she identified as a Cherokee in official documents (including applications to law school). However, it is seems possible that her identification is an erroneous one. Without any proof offered by her, the unearthing of evidence that contradicts some prior claims made regarding the Warren heritage and a reversal of New England Historical Genealogical Society’s position on the matter to “no evidence” and “no opinion,” all that is left is family lore. But it is understandable, if not admirable, that even in the face of a media controversy, Warren would not reverse her self-identification like a controversial political position. When asked directly about this controversy on Morning Joe she said, “This is how I grew up, Joe. I’m not backing off from my family. It became clear I didn’t get anything for law school applications or for college or for any of the jobs I was hired for.” Indeed, she shouldn’t back off her family and the facts seem to indicate that this was a fairly innocent aspect of her life. However, the second part is not accurate. To third-party observers that must rely on the news, those facts have not been presented clearly at all. That case has yet to be made. Nor was it accurate when she later said in the interview “we got the facts out there early on it.”
Warren goes on to blame Brown and the Herald for exploiting the issue. But upon looking back at how the initial questions and controversy was handled, I concluded that Warren herself largely sparked the controversy. Her initial responses to reporters were evasive and often times inarticulate to the point of inaccurate. The statement later released by her campaign was good, but late, and seldom repeated in front of cameras or reporters. Unfortunately, this was very much a message that needed repeating. Instead, the candidate appeared to deliberately avoid addressing the issue head-on and in-person. The handling of the issue was so poor that the Boston Globe eventually reversed its position that the the issue was a non-story and made it a front-page story. Even today, many remain unclear as to the facts because Warren has not repeated them and the news has no reason to report the death of a controversy.
It is yet to be seen whether this will have any impact on the actual election. Currently polling indicates that it probably wont. There is a lot of time and money separating now and our inevitably intense political Fall. Warren should be able to move on from this.