Democrat Elizabeth Warren, whose attacks on Wall Street propelled her ascent, will become the first female U.S. senator from Massachusetts, entering a divided chamber that had spurned her appointment as the nation’s consumer-protection chief.
Warren beat incumbent Republican Scott Brown 54 percent to 46 percent in one of the year’s most contentious Senate races. It tested the strength of Tea Party power and the state’s heritage of Kennedy-style Democratic politics. The victory was unexpectedly commanding: Polls during the campaign’s final days had shown a tighter race, two with Brown in the lead.
“My job is to go to Washington to fight for working families,” she said today on CBS Television. “To fight for America’s middle class. That’s what people here in Massachusetts worked for. It’s their race, and it really has been all along.”
Warren, 63, is a Harvard University professor who helped President Barack Obama establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the Dodd-Frank law that set new rules for Wall Street. Republicans made clear they would block her appointment to head the bureau, and Obama named Richard Cordray instead. Warren will now serve with some of those same senators.
“She has a choice to make,” Jeffrey Berry, a political-science professor at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, said in an interview today.
“Does she want to enter the club and get along with Republicans or is she going down there fighting mad as a spokesman against banks and Wall Street?” he said
Warren told cheering supporters in a Boston hotel last night that, “it was exactly 50 years ago tonight that Senator Ted Kennedy was first elected to the United States Senate.”
“We miss his passion, his energy, and his fight for working families,” she said. “That night, 50 years ago, he said that he would dedicate all his strength and will to serve you in the United State Senate. For 47 years, he lived up to that promise. Tonight, I pledge to do the same.”
In 2010, Brown, 53, shocked the political establishment when he won a special election by tapping into Tea Party dissent over Obama’s health-care overhaul. He later emphasized his independence from the Republican Party in a state dominated by Democrats.
A former state senator in Massachusetts who was a model before he became a lawyer, Brown sought to appeal to Obama supporters by featuring images of himself with the president in some ads.
“We stood strong in the fight and we stand strong now even in disappointment,” Brown told supporters gathered for his party a few blocks from Warren’s headquarters. “Defeat is only temporary.”
Democrats made Warren’s election a crusade. The party gave Warren a prime-time speaking role at its national convention. The state’s Democratic establishment helped her build a get-out-the-vote effort that reached blocs of voters such as black, Hispanics and union members, who in 2010 were largely untapped in the five-month special campaign that installed Brown in office.
Off to School
Warren made women’s issues a particular focus in her attack of Brown’s record. She assailed him for voting against equal pay for equal work, mandatory insurance coverage for birth control and an Obama Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, who Warren says favors abortion rights.
“To all the women across Massachusetts who are working your tails off, you better believe we’re going to fight for equal pay for equal work,” she told the crowd last night.
Warren was born in Oklahoma to a maintenance man father and a mother who worked for the Sears department store chain. She married her first husband at 19 and soon had her first of two children. She didn’t want to remain a stay-at-home mother, and headed to law school.
As a professor, she worked for years in an ultimately failed effort to oppose laws that restrict the right of consumers to file for bankruptcy. The measures were strongly supported by corporations and banks.
“She’s going to be a real force in the Senate on regulation,” said Kevin Giddis, head of fixed income at Raymond James Financial Inc., a St. Petersburg, Florida-based wealth management firm. “Scott Brown didn’t last as long as we thought.”
Groups that encourage female participation in politics, such as Emily’s List and the Barbara Lee Foundation, encouraged Warren to run and helped fund her campaign, seeing her as their best chance to break the gender barrier in Massachusetts’s Senate delegation after Brown beat Attorney General Martha Coakley in the special election.
Warren made the need for more infrastructure investment a central part of her plan to create jobs and boost the economy, and appeared in an ad alongside hard-hatted construction workers.
The support and endorsements from national and local labor groups helped build the biggest get-out-the-vote effort the state had ever seen, said Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh.
Unions “did everything we could do” to secure a Warren victory, said Steven Tolman, president of AFL-CIO’s Massachusetts chapter, which endorsed Brown in 2010. Tolman is also a former state senate colleague of Brown’s.
Brown’s popularity peaked as an tribune of opposition to Obama’s health-care changes, according to Clark S. Judge, managing director at the White House Writers Group Inc. in Washington and a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush.
Obama carried the Bay State in his race against Republican Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, taking about 60 percent of the vote. His coattails helped Warren, and Brown suffered, said Judge.
“There wasn’t anything comparable to drive his candidacy this time,” Judge said in a phone interview. “Warren was a very tough fighter, and in an environment where the presidential race in Massachusetts was very favorable to the president, he just couldn’t overcome it.”