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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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Nor should they. Scott Brown’s aim is to repeat his high turnout in the broad red swath that runs down the state’s middle, along the northern border with New Hampshire, around the southern border with Rhode Island and up the Cape’s elbow. Here in the exurbs built around office parks, you find folks who make and sell the things that run our everyday lives, from technology to concrete. You’ll find old-style New England Republicans in the mold of Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe; middle and upper management in the state’s manufacturing and high-tech corridors; older white union guys and other Reagan Democrats; and third-generation Irish-Americans who grew up with pictures of the pope and JFK on the wall but who sometimes stray from those childhood faiths. According to longtime Massachusetts political observer and journalist Robert David Sullivan, the red part of the state can be suspicious—even resentful—of the People’s Republic of Cambridge, with its intellectual snottiness and reformer zeal, and of Boston’s corrupt and oft-indicted Democratic machine. Some independents might identify more reliably as Republicans if that word weren’t so tarnished, in their minds, by Southern evangelical crazies. Others say they want to add “balance” to the state’s delegation, to offset the power of the Democratic machine. And Brown is taking full advantage of the incumbent’s toolbox to cannily reinforce the message that can win him the purple voters: that he’s an independent thinker.

On January 19 Brown came to Worcester’s plushly restored Mechanics Hall to announce his candidacy for re-election to the Senate—exactly two years after he celebrated his upset victory. Worcester is a rising power center in the state, a blue dot in the central Massachusetts red belt. Around it the county’s unemployment rate is 7.1 percent; housing costs half what it does just an hour away in Boston and Cambridge. Clark University, Holy Cross, Assumption College, Worcester State and Worcester Polytechnic crowd around, spawning real businesses that do real things, unlike Cambridge’s idea aeries.

That evening Mechanics Hall was decorated with starry red, white and blue light projections on the walls, signs announcing that Brown was running for “the People’s Seat” (i.e., not the “Ted Kennedy” seat). Risers behind him were filled with featured guests. Aside from one black child with a white adult and an Asian man, everyone in the hall was white—a shocking sight in a city that’s 36 percent nonwhite. Hundreds of people milled around, far fewer than the overflow crowd of several thousand that had attended Brown’s rally in 2010. The men were perfectly shaved and shorn in suits or barn jackets, or they were scraggly older union white guys in work boots. The women, outnumbered by about three to one, wore pearl earrings and had Coach bags and perfectly combed hair.

These true conservatives know why they support Brown. They believe that any resentment toward the 1 percent is class warfare and whining, an attack on normal families. Chip Jones, a well-groomed middle-aged man with a wide-brimmed hat, who looked well-off and said he was the son of a chicken farmer, told me he supported Brown “because he is a conservative candidate who represents the people that elected him. He acted independently, which makes him a man of his word and a man of honor. And Elizabeth Warren is a communist.”

I got an earful about the apocalyptic dangers of the deficit and currency devaluation from Jed, a union carpenter, who had come straight from a job site in his work boots, work shirt and gray ponytail. In his broad Massachusetts accent, Jed told me, “I don’t think we need another pinhead from Harvard. She’s very intelligent. But sometimes the smarter people are, the less common sense they have.”

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