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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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In a mirror of Warren’s strategy, Scott Brown’s plan is to excite his base, appeal to independents and keep the state’s women voters from leaning too heavily toward Warren. (Toward that end, his wife and daughters are never far from his side.) Everything about this event was aimed at independents. I did not see the word “Republican” on a single sign or piece of campaign literature. A dozen times in Brown’s speech, he called himself “bipartisan” and “independent,” either by using those words or related phrases like “reaching across the aisle” and “building bridges.” He used the word “Republican” only once, but he did disparage the Democratic establishment as if he were still running against Martha Coakley: “For years, everyone knew what the deal was in this state: you get chosen by the machine, you go along to get along, please the right people, and the rest is easy…. It is not the establishment’s seat. It is not the Democrats’ seat. It’s still the people’s seat. It’s your seat.” These lines brought an approving roar.

Brown aimed at the two points that many perceive as Warren’s weaknesses. First, in a tone of faintly exaggerated respect, he said, “My likely opponent, Professor Warren, is a hard-working, talented and accomplished academic.” The audience let out a gratified and denigrating “oooh.” Second, Brown painted Warren as a partisan ideologue, a self-proclaimed “rock thrower” who, in her words, wants to leave “blood and teeth” on the floor. He immediately contrasted that with his desire to focus on solutions instead of ideology, noting that he has one of the most bipartisan voting records in Congress.

That is true—even if, in this Congress, that’s a very low bar. According to  Congressional Quarterly, Brown was second only to Maine’s Susan Collins in voting against his party in 2011. He deviated from the Republicans far more this year than during his first year in office—surely intentionally, with an eye toward re-election. On the stump, he touts the fact that Obama praised and signed a bill he sponsored with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that bans insider trading by members of Congress. Publicly he will disagree with Rick Santorum or other Republican leaders on culture war issues that don’t play well in Massachusetts, like women in combat or gay rights, for which he gets a lot of attention in-state. He will also buck his party on incremental matters, like the February payroll tax cut extension or bills that will pass without his support. But on the core financial issues, he votes with the party. Brown has a keen instinct for exactly how Republican one can be as the junior senator from Massachusetts.

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Just off all the major arteries, the white-collar exurb of Melrose is an easy commute to all of northeastern Massachusetts. Its unemployment is below 7 percent; if you bought a house at the right time, your median income of $82,000 means your family can live comfortably on a quiet street with a yard. Melrose teeters between the deep-blue ring around Boston and Cambridge and the deep-red horse country of the North Shore. Some of its residents live in the Mayberry area, where honest work is rewarded. Some live in the Potterville section, where the banks are screwing everyone. Melrose is as purple as Massachusetts gets.

On a bitter night in January, a friend and I sat at the bar at Turner’s Seafood in Melrose, right on Main Street. While the Patriots game played on television, I talked with two middle-aged men—a gay couple, I soon realized—one almost unstoppably voluble, the other a model of New England reticence. Both had voted for Obama, for Brown and for Deval Patrick: D, R, D, right in a row. They voted for the person, not the party, and did not see any conflict between these votes. So what were their thoughts on Warren and Brown?

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