Senator Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, his Democratic challenger, like to talk about how they crisscross the state to meet voters. But a Boston Globe analysis of both candidates’ public schedules shows they are spending much of their time in the Boston media market, appearing at made-for-television events designed to keep them in the news cycle.
The biggest losers in that calculation may be Western Massachusetts voters. Even as Governor Deval Patrick has showered the area with attention — during his campaigns and his two terms in the corner office — the candidates for Senate seldom visit. Tonight’s debate in Springfield will mark only the second visit to the state’s third-largest city by each candidate since July 4, according to the Globe tally, which analyzed their public schedules from that day forward.
Brown, a Republican, has made additional visits to West Springfield, Wilbraham, Dalton, and Pittsfield, visiting each once in that period. Warren, a Democrat, has been to Pittsfield and Westfield.
Michael D. Bissonnette, mayor of Chicopee, said he is not surprised that the candidates have spent their time in more vote-rich areas east of his struggling city. But he is disappointed. He would like to hear more from the candidates about the region’s transportation challenges, the health of the Connecticut River, and the effects of defense policy on Westover Air Reserve Base, he said.
“What’s in it for Chicopee?” said Bissonnette, a Democrat who is supporting Warren. “I think that’s a message that you really can’t do with statewide advertising.”
Democrats have traditionally dominated the western part of the state, and Warren holds a 53 percent to 30 percent lead there in the most recent Globe poll taken in late September. That, combined with a relatively sparse population, leaves little incentive for either candidate to compete as hard as in some other parts of the state.
Still, locals are hoping their needs get a little more attention during tonight’s debate, which will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. in front of a live audience at Springfield Symphony Hall.
The Globe analysis of the Senate candidates’ travels included only events listed on campaign press releases, even though both candidates sometimes visit local communities without giving notice. The analysis also left out campaign stops made by the candidates’ spouses and supporters.
Brown has held 17 of his 79 public events in Boston, his top campaign stop, with a concentration inside Route 128. He has held five events in Barnstable and three in Plymouth.
Warren has placed an even greater emphasis on the state’s biggest city, with 35 of her 83 events over the past three months in Boston, and most others within 128. She has held six Worcester events and four events in Quincy.
Warren’s increased interest in Boston is also in keeping with her campaign strategy, shoring up the Democratic base in urban areas where the majority of the state population lives. Polls show her with a significant lead inside Route 128, where Democrats need to drive up the vote to win. She led Brown with 52 percent of the vote to 34 percent in the most recent Globe poll. Warren is also working to get organized labor, holding 13 events in union halls or with union officials.
Brown has tried to boost excitement in towns between Route 128 and Interstate 495, where he leads Warren 43 percent to 33 percent. Brown has also placed a greater emphasis on the South Coast, Cape, and the Islands, where the Globe’s poll shows him leading 41 percent to 40 percent.
The difference in strategy is on display in Central Massachusetts. The Globe’s poll shows Warren with a three-point lead in that region, 43 percent to 40 percent. Warren has held six Worcester events since July 4, compared with two by Brown. But Republicans often do well in the towns around Worcester, and Brown has made visits to Auburn and Shrewsbury.
Brown has had to cast votes in Washington throughout the summer, yet his campaign schedule is nearly as busy as Warren’s. Though both candidates gear many of their visits to news media, on the road Warren not only shakes voters’ hands, but takes questions from audiences, whereas Brown is keener to shake hands.
But for both, even the stops in the Boston region are less about greeting voters than they are about being seen greeting voters. One Tuesday morning last month, Brown’s campaign announced that he would be meeting commuters at South Station.
But Brown wasn’t shaking many hands with train passengers. Instead, he stood before a bank of cameras, holding a standard press conference to deliver his campaign message of the day, a critique of Warren’s legal career. Hours later, Warren announced her own press conference at a Dorchester union hall to respond to Brown.
Tom Fiedler, a veteran political reporter and editor who is dean of the College of Communication at Boston University, said retail politics on large campaigns changed forever during the 1980 presidential election. Jimmy Carter went from stop to stop, running himself ragged and leaving plenty of opportunities for off-the-cuff statements, he said. Ronald Reagan would do one or two carefully staged events, winning the media war without sacrificing the perception that he was on the trail, said Fieldler, who covered the Carter campaign.
“We’re well past the retail campaign stage now; it’s all about the wholesale campaign,” Fiedler said. “In many cases, they’re just trying to reinforce personally what they’re already putting up in their TV ads.”
With only a handful of undecided voters in a typical small town, he said, “What good does it do you to go into North Adams, Massachusetts, now to do a campaign event?”