Boston’s former Democratic mayor, Ray Flynn, urges voters to back Republican Scott Brown for re-election to the U.S. Senate against Elizabeth Warren, a one-time adviser to President Barack Obama, in a recent television spot.
Flynn isn’t alone among Democrats to go for Brown, the only Republican in Congress from Massachusetts and whose upset victory in 2010 was fueled with Tea Party support. The advertisements featuring well-known local Democrats are aimed at undecided voters like Margaret Boles Fitzgerald.
“Ads that show people going from one side to the other have that surprise message, the surprise messenger, that catches my eye, my ear, my fancy,” said Fitzgerald, 56, who works in Boston. A registered Republican, she considers herself an independent voter and doesn’t know which candidate she’ll back.
Brown, running in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one, stresses his bipartisan record in a race where a few thousand votes may decide the winner. Warren supporters dismiss Democrats backing Brown as having little clout. The most-recent polls show a dead heat in the contest, which is among the most closely watched and well-financed in the nation and may help determine which party controls the Senate.
When former Worcester Mayor Konstantina Lukes, a Democratic city councilor, came out for Brown, members of her party stood outside City Hall handing out literature showing that she has previously backed Republicans. She was voted off the Democratic city committee after supporting a Republican for governor. Worcester is the state’s second-largest city by population.
“It’s about an education process for folks to know and for us to get that out there,” said Candy Mero Carlson, the committee’s leader. “We have thousands of volunteers across the state. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure voters are making an educated decision.”
The 30-second TV spots send a signal to both independents and uncommitted Democrats that it’s all right to support Brown, according to Peter Blute, the deputy chairman of the state Republican Party and a former Massachusetts congressman.
“I always tell young Republican candidates: You have to understand that the liberal-element faction is not a majority in Massachusetts, but they are the largest discrete minority, and they’re cohesive, so in order to defeat that you have to string together almost everyone else,” said Blute, who beat nine-term incumbent Democrat Joe Early in 1992 to become the first member of his party to represent central Massachusetts in Congress since 1947. “That’s how I was able to do it.”
Warren, a Harvard Law professor who helped Obama set up the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is her party’s hope to recapture the seat long held by Ted Kennedy, who died in office in 2009. Brown upset Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat, in a January 2010 special election to serve the remainder of Kennedy’s last six-year term.
The challenger supports Obama’s health-care overhaul, investing in clean energy technology and opposes subsidies for oil, gas and coal producers, according to her website. She opposes the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars recognition of same-sex marriages, and is against privatizing Medicare, the health-insurance program for Americans over 65.
Brown, whose 2010 victory was propelled by his promise to help repeal the health overhaul, also opposes providing driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants, as well as the $700 billion bank bailout in 2008. He has pledged to fight tax increases because “government has proven to be a terrible steward of our money,” according to his website.
Both candidates are trying to win over independent voters, who make up a majority in the state. Warren’s supporters have been quick to paint many of the prominent Democrats backing Brown, such as Lukes in Worcester, as party turncoats.
Flynn, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, is also backing ex-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s challenge to Obama, and supported Republican George W. Bush’s White House bid in 2000. Still, the TV ads may persuade some undecided voters.
“It’s brilliant to showcase that people from the other side are switching allegiances,” said Fitzgerald, who worked in advertising for 30 years at Boston’s Hill Holliday agency. “What made them take what might seem like a bold move? Something influenced them and I’m more likely to listen to them than the same-old, same-old.”
Commercials let campaigns create narratives about a candidate, said Michael Goldman, who has consulted on campaigns for Democrats since the 1960s, including U.S. Representative Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the former House Speaker from Massachusetts, and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis, who served three terms as the state’s governor.
“The nuance of Flynn’s lack of support for Democratic candidates who are pro-choice, for example, is lost in a 30-second commercial -- and that’s the point,” Goldman said.
The difference between the winner and loser in November may come down to as few as 35,000 votes out of 3.1 million cast in the state of 6.5 million, said David Paleologos, who directs Suffolk University’s Political Research Center in Boston. According to state records, 52 percent of Massachusetts voters aren’t members of any party.
“People are going to make their decision based on what they feel,” Paleologos said. Endorsements generally don’t decide an election, yet in a close race, they could tip the balance, he said.
Support from Flynn, who served as Boston’s mayor from 1984 to 1993, may help sway lower-income voters and Catholics who oppose abortion, Paleologos said. And he may influence people in the greater Boston area, where most the state’s residents live.
“Brown has been consistently sticking to the theme of his independence -- that’s part of the Democrats endorsing him and is helpful for him because the national Republican Party is too far to the right, particularly on economics and social issues, to be helpful here,” said Maurice Cunningham, chairman of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. “It’s such a tight race and the campaigns are so well-matched that every little edge could have significance.”
Brown will also get some help from a nationally known independent from out of state, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who plans to host a fundraiser today in his East Side townhouse. Bloomberg, a billionaire who was raised near Boston, threw his support to Brown after the senator backed a gun-control measure last month. The mayor is a founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.
Between the two of them, Brown and Warren had collected almost $41.5 million in campaign contributions by June 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group in Washington. Warren pulled in the biggest amount, at $24.5 million to Brown’s almost $17 million.
While Warren has also received praise from Obama and endorsements -- including from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign and the AFL-CIO’s state chapter -- these are “already high-intensity Democrat groups,” Suffolk’s Paleologos said. As a result, they don’t bring many new voters to her side, he said.
Brown has focused on his bipartisan record in Congress while characterizing Warren as an ideologue who will further polarize the politics of Washington.
“More and more Massachusetts Democrats are crossing the aisle to support Scott Brown because he is an independent thinker who works in a bipartisan manner to get things done for the people he represents,” Alleigh Marre, a spokeswoman, said by e-mail. “Brown is a bridge-builder, not a rock-thrower, and the last thing we need in Washington right now are partisan ideologues like Professor Warren who would rather leave blood and teeth on the floor than compromise.”
Warren has sought to tie Brown to the national Republican Party while emphasizing her years spent as a consumer advocate.
“Scott Brown’s voting record -- like protecting tax breaks for millionaires and giveaways to big oil -- makes clear he stands with Wall Street, big corporations, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan,” Alethea Harney, a Warren spokeswoman, said by e-mail. “Elizabeth Warren stands with middle-class families and small businesses to level the playing field so everyone has a fair chance to get ahead.”
While endorsements may help pry some voters away from their party or persuade them to support one candidate over the other, the one local political figure who could make the most difference is Boston Mayor Tom Menino, according to Tom Whalen, a Boston University associate professor whose books include “A Higher Purpose: Profiles in Presidential Courage” and “Kennedy Versus Lodge: The 1952 Massachusetts Senate Race.”
A Democrat who has held the office for 19 years, Menino has been conspicuously silent on making an endorsement in the race. John Guilfoil, a spokesman, declined to comment.
“Right now, Menino is playing coy, no doubt trying to wrest some assurances from Warren’s camp that she will secure some serious federal largesse for Boston if elected,” Whalen said.
Warren has “great respect” for Mayor Menino’s leadership, said Harney, Warren’s spokeswoman. “She is working across the commonwealth every day, hard, to earn each vote, including the mayor’s.”