Narrowing the Field

Elizabeth Warren hasn’t wrapped up the nomination for Senate; she's only determined who can beat her if she falters.
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 12, 2011

It may seem like the Democratic nomination of a challenger to US Senator Scott Brown has been wrapped up. That's not true — there are 11 months left before the primary, and a lot can still happen.

But the past couple of weeks have narrowed the possibilities. It appears that the race is Elizabeth Warren's to lose — with Alan Khazei waiting to take advantage if she falters.

What comes next? Warren may simply continue to dominate, as she has done since entering the race last month, with Khazei a footnote until he runs out of money and either quits or limps to a ballot-box drubbing.

But there's always the possibility that Warren, like many establishment-favored candidates of both parties in recent years, will not wear well over time with the electorate. Khazei need only remind himself of an underdog named Deval Patrick plugging away against establishment-backed Tom Reilly in the 2006 gubernatorial race.

Recent news has been nothing but good for Warren. US representatives Stephen Lynch and Michael Capuano have finally announced they won't run for the Senate seat. Kennedy dynasty members are taking a pass as well. And the mid-field candidates with the most high-end potential are dropping like Red Sox in a pennant race.

Warren's blockbuster entry has made her the clear front-runner, and Khazei's funding and following make him the only one likely to maintain the chase.

The national and local media are already treating this as a Warren-Brown race. Polls show Warren far ahead of the rest of the Democratic field. And her close showing in head-to-head polling against Brown, along with a blockbuster $3.1 million fundraising figure announced this week, have gotten many initially reluctant Democratic activists excited at her chances.

In a stellar example of the upward spiral of campaign success, the good news about Warren has brought her more media attention, which has caused her name recognition to soar (to several times that of even second-time candidate Khazei), which improves her polling and fundraising, earning her more positive press.

But the spiral can sometimes spin downward just as rapidly — as Martha Coakley discovered. If it can happen to a veteran pol like Coakley, it could happen to a novice like Warren.

Or so hopes AmeriCorps co-founder Alan Khazei, who has raised a total of $1.2 million, and claims $750,000 in the bank — enough to keep going at least through the Democratic state convention in the spring. He also doesn't seem concerned with pleasing the state's Democratic powers-that-be by stepping aside; they already disdain him, and he returns the sentiment.

And it appears that he won't need to work hard to become the anti-Warren candidate — the others are taking care of that by heading for the exits. Newton Mayor Setti Warren and Somerville activist Bob Massie have already thrown in the towel, and most Democratic insiders don't expect State Representative Tom Conroy to last much longer.

Khazei is heading in the other direction: he has retained top political consultant Liberty Square Group, and come out swinging against Warren — challenging her to join him in rejecting contributions from lobbyists and political action committees. He has also refined his message, positioning himself as the more centrist pragmatist who can recapture Ted Kennedy's coalition-building magic, contrasted with hard-line liberal Warren, who would only re-enforce Washington's polarized inertia.

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