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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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The first, whom I’ll call Paul, out of respect for his privacy, effusively told me how much he liked them both—because they were so very much alike. Both had pulled themselves up from hard-luck childhoods, and, more important, “They are not afraid to fight for what they believe. They want the truth. They want what’s right for the state.” He had hated Bush and so voted for Obama; he disliked Coakley and judged her insincere, so he voted for Brown. He loved Warren’s feistiness as a strong woman. He loved that Brown refused to identify too closely with a party and hoped Warren would reject the Democrats as well. He admired both Brown’s and Warren’s stands on “fairness,” which I figured out meant gay rights.

Like the two candidates he admired, Paul didn’t have life handed to him on a platter. He was only the second in his family to graduate from college. He was proud that even after he lost his job in 1994 (with a wife at home, a 3-year-old and another baby on the way), he’d never taken a dime in unemployment. He had started a business and raised his kids by himself after his wife died. Now his son was graduating from business school at an obscenely high cost that Paul believed was somehow the government’s fault. His warmth toward Warren puzzled me, especially after he went on a riff about how the Democratic Party bought votes by doling out public assistance that made people dependent on government. As far as I could tell, the man should have been a straight-up Log Cabin Republican.

Paul’s husband, Bob (also not his real name), who came from a deeply Republican family, hated Warren’s commercials, which introduce her through her personal story: the middle-class family, the heart attack, the young marriage. Earlier, at Boston’s Martin Luther King breakfast, a retired teacher and small-church minister told me she’d been unimpressed by those commercials as well, because if Warren was trying to say she had had a hard childhood, well, it couldn’t compare to real disadvantage. But Bob took exception for the opposite reason: he resented Warren for suggesting that her climb from hardship—not her ideas—meant she deserved his vote. He found that offensively condescending. He would definitely vote for Brown.

For both, Warren’s status as a Harvard law professor was a distinct negative. In Mayberry, you earn your keep not by thinking but by doing. And when things get hard, you just work harder.

Across Main Street at the Stearns & Hill’s Bistro, Michael and Jackie were swing voters who leaned toward the other side. Jackie, a realtor and a registered Democrat, thought she had voted for Reagan once, but couldn’t remember for sure. She was pretty sure she’d voted for Obama, and even though she was unhappy with him, she probably would do so again, considering the crazies in the Republican primary. She remembered that she’d voted for Brown; she hadn’t wanted to vote for “Martha” but couldn’t really remember why. Michael, an Irish immigrant (now an American citizen) who worked in construction and was registered as an independent, explained, “Scott Brown stepped in at the right place, at the right time; he did his little truck drive around the countryside. He did it right. He listened.” But then he disappeared. “He forgot about us,” Jackie said. Michael added, “He fell in line. He went with the Republican way of thinking.”

But the two were concerned that they had heard that Warren was connected with Occupy Wall Street—wasn’t she? What, exactly, did she stand for? They had seen the commercials but didn’t know her positions.

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