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Tom Keane

Warren for Senate? No thanks

Elizabeth Warren has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate. Elizabeth Warren has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate. (Brendan Smialowski for The Boston Globe)
By Tom Keane
July 26, 2011

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DEAR ELIZABETH Warren:

Please don’t.

You’ve gone to Legoland right now, supposedly to contemplate your future after a heady and, of late, bruising time in Washington. You’re the Harvard professor who connected with the little guy, writing a few popular money management books and even appearing on “Dr. Phil.’’ And then in 2008, as the financial world came crashing down, you went to D.C. to help sort out the mess, making to the cover of Time (the “New Sheriffs of Wall Street’’), which also named you - twice - one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. The Globe’s Sunday magazine awarded you Bostonian of the Year for 2009. And this year saw the formation of your brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But it all soured of late. You should have been the first head of the bureau but, no, you weren’t even nominated. Perhaps that’s just realism; a concession to the fact that in these virulently partisan times you wouldn’t have made it through confirmation. Or maybe, as some have suggested, it’s sexism. I’d like to think we’re past that, but then again we have just been through a week’s worth of stories trashing a leading female presidential candidate because she has migraines (“Sorry, dear, I can’t negotiate weapons reductions tonight. I have a headache’’), so maybe I’m wrong.

But that’s OK, because the Democratic mandarins have a new job for you: candidate for Senate, slayer of Scott Brown.

Right now they’re in full woo mode, whispering sweet nothings about how much they want you and how good you’d be. No doubt you’re flattered and, really, who wouldn’t be? But still, it all sounds eerily familiar, the same kind of siren song Ted Kennedy heard in 1980 when the left pleaded with him to take on Jimmy Carter and he finally did, only to suddenly find himself abandoned by those who had courted him, his legacy that year a good speech and arguably throwing the election to Ronald Reagan.

The crux of the argument for those who urge you to run is that they need a savior: You, and only you, have the stature to beat the political phenomenon that is Scott Brown. Sure, there is already a well-formed field of Democrats eager to take on the task, but they’re Lilliputians, unknown and unready.

The Lilliputians themselves might object to the characterization. Alan Khazei, for instance, co-founded City Year, a do-gooder organization on par, at least locally, with the stuff you’ve been doing nationally. Setti Warren, the mayor of Newton, is a rising star (perhaps rising too quickly, some think, but politics is a game of ambition, not reticence). Neither will give way just because you’re in the race. Granted, they don’t have a lot of name recognition statewide, but then again - and I hate to break the news - neither do you. You’re better connected, perhaps, but not better known.

Moreover, I’m not really sure that stature is the way to win this race. Brown, remember, was also an unknown. But unlike his opponent, he was a better campaigner and connected with folks on the ground. You’ve done some great stuff, but campaigning is an entirely different skill-set: grinding, endless hours of fundraising, shaking hands, and dodging reporters trying to trip you up. You’ll be learning on the job, and that’s a tough thing to do (just ask Charlie Baker).

Then too, there’s a dirty secret about Massachusetts you need to know. We may be predominantly Democratic but that doesn’t make us liberal. Yes, we’re a socially tolerant bunch but, like much of the country, we don’t care for high taxes, free spending, or lots of government regulation. Brown understood that, and in office he has for the most part stuck to those themes, which is why even Democratic polls show him the most popular politician in the state. The lefties pushing you to get into this race don’t want you for your moderation, you know, and the message you’ll be pushing may leave mainstream voters cold.

No doubt, it’s gratifying to be thought a savior. But if you jump into this pool, don’t think you’ll be walking on water. Indeed, you may quickly find yourself drowning.

Tom Keane writes regularly for the Globe.