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Elizabeth Warren needed an A-game speech — and she gave one

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  June 2, 2012 03:31 PM

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SPRINGFIELD — Elizabeth Warren is right. Republican Senator Scott Brown would rather talk about her family than his votes.

She did a great job reminding people what Brown voted for and against during his two years in Washington. But a great speech to the party faithful is no guarantee the questions about her family heritage will finally go up in smoke.

Warren needed an A-game speech and she delivered one to Democratic convention delegates. She started off with the tiniest quaver in her voice, but quickly got past the jitters and seized command of the stage.

An audience that has watched an inexperienced candidate duck and stumble for several weeks over questions about her Native American heritage instead heard a confident and eloquent candidate draw the outlines of a fight that resonates in Massachusetts and beyond.

She made the typical Democratic case for which party stands with the people — Democrats — and who does not — Brown and his "Republican buddies."

Beyond showing that she could speak with partisan passion, Warren also needed to show she is ready to take what Brown and the media are already dishing out. She has been hammered with questions about how Harvard University came to list her as a minority, and only recently acknowledged that she gave that information to Harvard, and to the University of Pennslyvania, where she also worked as a law school professor. A key part of her message to delegates was to reinforce the alleged irrelevance of those queries.

"If that's all you got, Scott Brown, I'm ready," she declared. "And let me be clear: I am not backing down. I didn't get into this race to fold up the first time I got punched."

The image she projected was that of a strong, tough woman eager to take on Brown. In that hall, before that crowd, she seemed up to the challenge. That's what true believers needed to see — especially from a female candidate, given the recent showdown between Brown and Martha Coakley, the Democratic woman he defeated — and true believers saw it.

But even top Democrats acknowledge the Warren campaign has done a poor job of handling questions about her heritage, and some question the media strategy to date. For several long weeks, Warren's strategy consisted of ducking the press and hiding behind Governor Deval Patrick, when he endorsed. Then, there were a few reach-outs to specific journalists. Finally, Warren did multiple one-on-ones with individual reporters, which resulted in a dump of new information, which generated new questions. So far, polling shows limited impact on her standing with voters.

As long as that holds, Warren will treat the issue as a distraction and try to get everyone else to focus on Brown's votes. Brown, of course, has other ideas.

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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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