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Five reasons Elizabeth Warren should challenge Scott Brown

Posted by Rob Anderson  January 20, 2011 03:02 PM

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UPDATE: President Obama recently nominated former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, leaving Elizabeth Warren available to challenge Scott Brown.

warren.JPGAmid the ongoing discussions of who will challenge Scott Brown next year, there's one name that's been noticeably absent: Elizabeth Warren.

The idea of a Warren Senate run is not new, especially to Globe readers. Last year, Ethan Porter wrote an op-ed for the Globe (and a blog post, earlier, for the site True/Slant) explaining why Democrats desperately need Warren to run for office. Just days after Brown's surprising win, Porter wrote that Brown's victory "made clear that voters crave something besides the norm: someone from outside the traditional political structure who can speak to their everyday, bread-and-butter concerns in a credible way. Warren fits the bill."

Porter argued that as a candidate, Warren would benefit from the same aspects that propelled both Brown and Barack Obama into higher offices: "We’re living in an age that rewards candidates who can generate real enthusiasm on the Internet; who can credibly distance themselves from the party apparatus; and who offer populist but 'post-ideological' politics."

Although there was never indication that Warren ever seriously considered a run in 2009, Porter was right that she would make an appealing candidate. And the case for her to run this time around is even stronger than it was before. Here are five reasons why:

1) Democrats are looking for an all-star. Deval Patrick has already declared his intentions to finish out his second term as governor, and Vicki Kennedy recently confirmed that she really, truly, honestly has no intention of ever becoming another Senator Kennedy. But, as Globe columnist Scot Lehigh has pointed out, the rest of the field is composed of "possible or probable candidacies of distinctly lesser lights."

Warren is already well-regarded on the national stage as a leading voice for consumer protections thanks to her role as the chairwoman of the TARP Oversight Committee and as the chief architect of the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Her growing name recognition — and positive identification — also benefits from a glut of glowing media coverage and upbeat appearances on television shows as diverse as "Dr. Phil," "The Daily Show," and "Charlie Rose."

True, she isn't a Kennedy. But she towers over other possible candidates in terms of stature, recognition, and respect.

2) The Democratic base loves her — and in Massachusetts, that's still a good thing. A recent post on the progressive blog Blue Mass Group asked readers whom they would like to see take on Brown. Here's one response: "In my wildest dreams, Elizabeth Warren would run. I'd work myself like a dog to get her in office." That sort of enthusiasm could provide Warren with the volunteers and fund-raising prowess to build a strong operation quickly, which would be important for a candidate entering the race without the benefit of a tested electoral machine. And that association with the left wouldn't be as much of a problem here in Massachusetts as it might be in other states, like her native Oklahoma. Bay State voters bucked the national trend favoring Republicans last November and picked Democrats in every statewide race. That's good news, of course, for any Democrat challenging Brown.

3) She neutralizes Scott Brown's upsides. Senator Brown still has a few things going for him. Chief among them is his "everyman touch." Even after a year in Washington, he's still seen as a post-ideological nice guy who shares the concerns of the middle class. If presented in the right way, Warren could one-up Brown in each of these areas. Yes, Warren is a Harvard professor. But she's also a plain spoken daughter of a janitor, and a teenage bride who raised a child and worked with brain-damaged children as a young woman. As Porter pointed out, "When she’s championing the middle class, she’s not doing so because it’s politically expedient, but because she feels connected to it in a way few politicians are. And she has the intellectual chops to convert that connection into dramatic policy change."

Like Brown, she also has fans on the other side of the aisle, bolstering her "post-ideological" identity. When she was floated as a possible candidate in 2009, for example, pundits on both MSNBC and FoxNews responded positively. It was telling that even one of her most vocal opponents in Congress, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, felt the need to offer profuse praise for her before leveling his attacks.

4) The timing is right. Warren's role guiding the Consumer Financial Protection Agency into existence will end this July, when the agency is expected officially launch. Unless Obama picks Warren to stay on as the head of the CFPA, a move that is increasingly seen as unlikely, she will be free to start campaigning by the early summer. That would still give her enough time to launch an outsider's campaign, especially if none of the declared candidates is eliciting much excitement.

5) Democrats need a credible, easy-to-understand leader on economic protection issues. If Warren were to run and win, she'd immediately become the Senate's go-to person on issues of economic protections. She'd also become the Democrat's best communicator on financial issues. Her recent interview with USA Today makes that clear: "Shopping for a mortgage should be as straightforward as buying breakfast cereal," she said. A clear, effective communicator with a populist bent would be someone Democrats would love to have on their side, and someone Republicans would loathe to attack aggressively.

Globe file photo: Elizabeth Warren in November 2010.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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