Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Get in the Race – Or Get Out

There are key moments in the delicate rhythm of any political campaign - predictable moments like debates, big speeches, fundraising deadlines and even some polls. Those moments must be seized, harnessed and, with a bit of luck and skill, capitalized upon.

That is why the performances of the non-Elizabeth Warren Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in last night’s Boston Herald-UMass Lowell debate were so befuddling. Waking up today and seeing the Herald splash of “Bravo” to the Harvard Law professor and the Globe saying frontrunner Warren “stood firm,” must have been heartbreaking for the other five candidates remaining in the primary field.

But while they’re all surely blaming the media for ignoring their fine moments – and, truth be told, there were a few – they truly only have themselves to blame.

This applies more to candidates who actually have a shot, namely Alan Khazei and, to a lesser extent, Bob Massie and Tom Conroy. The moment passed and you let it pass. It’s time to get in the race or get out.

Let’s face it: the media likes a simple storyline. They are spread far too thin these days to be able to care about much more. Warren v. Brown is easy – it’s Democrat v. Republican, liberal v. conservative, Obama ally v. Obama critic, even man v. woman.

Very simply, one of these candidates is going to have to stand in front of the freight train that is becoming the Warren campaign or she will roll right into the general election matchup with Senator Scott Brown that she and her handlers so want.

Does this mean that they need to go negative? Of course not, though the time may come for that if they are within striking distance. The goal now is to stay afloat, to stay viable and to stay competitive at least into 2012.

How? Draw out differences and shatter the inevitability cloak surrounding Warren.

City Year co-founder Khazei and former lieutenant governor candidate Massie probably have the best odds there. Khazei and Warren clearly disagree on President Obama’s jobs bill. Khazei let the moment pass last night but he ought to be out there today drawing that distinction, making the case for his plan over hers and taking the fight to Warren as best he can.

Massie, like Khazei, has rejected political action committee donations – which Warren, to date, has not. Either or both candidates should be trying to widen that gulf and showcase Warren as the creature of the Democratic special interests while they represent the voice of the grassroots.

Are these issues enough to topple Goliath? Surely not. But they will allow at least two of the Davids to fight another day.

With fundraising reports for the latest quarter out soon, expectations are that Warren may well blow away her competitors in that key media measuring stick. Newton Mayor Setti Warren’s hasty retreat will only act like chum in the water for a media only too eager to write a few more political obituaries.

It’s up to the challengers now. They missed the first big moment last night, to their detriment and Warren’s clear gain. There aren’t many more moments like that left before they become afterthoughts and also-rans.

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