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Inside Scoop: Can Elizabeth Warren Really Win?

It's Massachusetts' fickle independents who'll decide her high-stakes showdown with Scott Brown. Here's a look at what they think of her so far.

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Warren emerged from her particular background believing that people will work hard to do the right thing, as long as they know what the right thing is—and as long as the game isn’t rigged against them. She started her public career by telling people what that right thing is. Now she’s running to fix the rules so they can do it.

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As in most of the country, Massachusetts’ reliably Democratic voters come from the top and the bottom—highly educated, affluent professionals and the working poor or near poor. The Boston-Cambridge area and surrounding suburbs; the Berkshires; and Provincetown, the artist/LGBT colony at the tip of Cape Cod—all these areas at the edges of the state are deep, deep blue. Warren’s campaign knows it’s already excited much of this progressive base. They’re focusing now on motivating Democrats in economically depressed industrial towns like Holyoke and Lowell, where convenience stores, tattoo parlors, pawn shops and liquor stores are overshadowed by empty mills and boarded-up factories, Massachusetts’ iteration of Detroit.

That’s why she was speaking at Taunton’s Off Broadway Diner, packed with people who had come out to meet her—some on an hour’s notice—at the invitation of hometown boy and Democratic state senator, Marc Pacheco.

It’s Warren’s first campaign, as she noted to her advantage. “I didn’t even run for student council,” she quipped. “But I knew I would do anything I could to be a voice for America’s working families…. I ask you to be a part of this. We’re in this together.”

In person, Warren has “it,” that political charisma that can change the temperature in a room. She’s smart in a way that makes you feel smarter; her simple stories are sharpened with clear messages about complex topics and then tweaked to suit the audience in front of her. At the Taunton diner, as at almost every stop where I observed her, Warren greeted and connected with everyone in every booth and at every counter stool. “We’re so proud of you for running,” one woman said.

These middle-aged and retired folks reminded me of my mother; they are the civic volunteers who keep a town running, raise money for the library and serve on zoning boards. Winning elections depends on exciting them; they will—or won’t—pour themselves into getting out the vote. And everywhere I went, they went crazy for Warren. Kathy Rogers, a retired teacher, told me she was glad to hear that Warren “has a brother who runs construction cranes. My kid brother and her kid brother are the same. She gets what goes on at the street level.”

“I liked her,” said one cheerful retired firefighter, Dean Pina, after shaking her hand. He and his twin brother, David, a retired cop, told me that because cuts in public safety budgets were putting their town at risk, they were considering volunteering for a campaign for the first time. David agreed, nodding enthusiastically, “She seems honest. She’s for the little guy.”

Wherever Warren went to meet local Democrats, the rooms were jammed with such enthusiasts. At a campaign stop in Worcester, Margot Barnet of the local Democratic Party couldn’t stop talking about her passion for Warren. “She’s a great candidate. She’s personable. She explains things that are complicated in language that people can get it. She’s the real thing.” Another Worcester Democrat told me, “She’s bringing out people who want to volunteer for her and have never registered as Democrats before. She’s going to revive the Massachusetts Democratic Party.”

Indeed, the campaign has more volunteers than it can handle, endorsements from every corner and more demands for public appearances than is usually seen this early in a campaign. No one wants to repeat the mistake of taking a Democratic win for granted.

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