Tag Archives: Senate

The Brown-Warren race and the ghosts of a 2010 poll

With today’s Boston Globe poll reporting that Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren leads Sen. Scott Brown by five points, get ready for Brown’s defenders to dredge up an infamous Globe poll from two years ago — the one that showed Attorney General Martha Coakley leading Brown, a Republican, by 15 points.

Globe-bashers like Howie Carr love to point to that earlier poll as a sign of the paper’s liberal bias — and I’ll predict right now that that will be the subject of Carr’s next column in the Boston Herald.

In fact, Globe polls are not Globe polls — they are conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, a respected, independent polling operation.

So what went wrong in 2010? My theory: Nothing. The story about that earlier poll is protected behind a paywall (I’m a subscriber, so I’ve reread the whole thing). But as you can see from this excerpt, the poll was conducted between Jan. 2 and 6, and the election to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy created by Ted Kennedy’s death was held on Jan. 19.

Thus it’s likely that the poll was accurate when it was conducted. People were just getting back to their normal routines coming out of the holidays. The race broke very late for Brown. By the time the story was published, on Jan. 10, the race was already trending away from Coakley, and within days, other polls were reflecting that.

What does that mean for Brown now?

First, the margin of error in the new poll, which shows Warren with a 43 percent to 38 percent lead, is 4.4 percent. In other words, if the election were held tomorrow, Brown could beat Warren by several points without calling the validity of the poll into question. The race is still essentially tied.

Second, this is not a low-turnout special election, and as the Globe story notes, Brown faces some harsh realities. By wide margins, people like Brown and like the job he’s doing — but they are increasingly leaning toward Warren because of the enormous enthusiasm among Massachusetts voters for President Obama. I suspect you would not be able to get Brown to utter the words “Mitt Romney” these days even if he were being waterboarded.

Third and most important: It’s still early. No, it’s not as early as it was during the pre-Labor Day period, when you could argue that most people weren’t paying attention. But it’s early enough for things to change dramatically if Warren stumbles badly. That’s why I think Brown is making a mistake by putting a torch to his nice-guy image with his continued attacks on Warren’s claim that she’s part-Native American.

David Bernstein of The Phoenix offers some further analysis of the Globe poll. And Nate “The Great” Silver of the New York Times takes a deep look at conservative claims of liberal bias in polling — and buries the assertion in an avalanche of well-marshaled data.

Illustration (cc) by DonkeyHotey and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Warren needs a better answer on asbestos case

Coming out of Thursday night’s WBZ-TV (Channel 4) debate between Republican senator Scott Brown and his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, I thought the issue that could have the most resonance was Brown’s accusation that Warren profited from a legal case that harmed victims of asbestos exposure. Warren didn’t handle the question well, and the matter was left hanging.

Boston Globe reporter Noah Bierman wrote about the case in May. It is convoluted, to say the least. In essence, though, Warren was paid $212,000 by Travelers Insurance to argue that the insurer should be immune from future asbestos lawsuits in return for setting up a $500 million trust fund to compensate victims. The liability belonged to Travelers because Johns-Manville, the company that actually manufactured the asbestos, had gone bankrupt.

Later, after Warren no longer had anything to do with the case, another court ruled that Travelers did not have to pay out the $500 million. So the victims got nothing. Warren told the Globe:

My heart goes out to the victims of this terrible, terrible disaster. It’s heart-wrenching that there are new victims every year…. I think they should be compensated. That’s it for me. That’s what this is all about.

She added that the principle she was fighting for — a provision in bankruptcy law that would allow the establishment of trust funds for victims in return for no further legal liability — was “a critical tool for making sure that people who’ve been hurt have a fair shot at compensation.”

Brown is scheduled to discuss the asbestos case with reporters later this morning. Warren needs a better answer.

Overall, I thought Warren came across well — focused, substantive and calm, if a bit repetitive. Brown was snide and personal. Moderator Jon Keller began by inviting Brown to comment on Warren’s character, and Brown chose to go all-in on Warren’s claim that she’s part Native American. Senator, there are people who will do that for you — and have been doing that for you.

Here is my Northeastern colleague Alan Schroeder, writing for the Huffington Post:

The opening debate between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown … at times felt like the classroom dynamic between an earnest, soft-spoken high school English teacher and the defiant jock who plants himself in the back row and makes sour faces until the bell rings. Although the teacher never quite subdued her student, neither did he manage to get the better of her.

And how good a moderator is my friend Keller? Other than keeping the conversation moving, you barely knew he was there. In other words, a first-rate job.

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Getting pumped for the Brown-Warren debate

Like all political junkies, I’m looking forward to tonight’s U.S. Senate debate between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. (Assuming it comes off.)

The first debate is often the most important in terms of drawing the biggest audience and establishing a story line. So I’m glad that this one will be moderated by political analyst Jon Keller of WBZ-TV (Channel 4). Keller, a fair-minded centrist who doesn’t mind delivering an occasional zing, is good at keeping things moving while not cutting people off. Among the things I won’t miss: a panel of journalists and a timer.

Recent polls have been all over the place, showing Warren unexpectedly taking the lead or Brown maintaining his months-long advantage. All are within the margin for error, so the race is essentially tied. That could change starting tonight.

If you’re live-tweeting (as I’ll be) or just following along on Twitter, search for #wbzdebate. The action begins at 7 p.m.

Photo (cc) by John Atherton via Wikimedia Commons and published here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Brown’s reasons for rejecting debate make no sense

Tom Brokaw

This commentary is also online at the Huffington Post.

What we were talking about, in case U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s diversionary tactics led you astray, was a televised debate, held before a neutral audience, to be moderated by Tom Brokaw. Everything else is baloney.

As you no doubt already know, Brown made two demands that had to be met before he would agree to a debate with his Democratic rival, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren.

The first was that Vicki Kennedy, president of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, which would sponsor the debate, refrain from endorsing a candidate for “the duration of the Senate race.”

The second was that the debate be carried only by local media outlets and not by “out-of-state cable networks with a reputation for political advocacy” — clear reference to the liberal outlet MSNBC, which had been mentioned as a possibility.

Both demands were ridiculous because they were irrelevant. But when Vicki Kennedy rejected the first of those demands, that was enough for Brown to say no.

(At this point I suppose I should include a non-disclosure: I’m not related to those Kennedys.)

Brown might have been able to make a reasonable case for asking Vicki Kennedy not to endorse until after the debate. But demanding that she refrain for “the duration” was just silly. If the media consortium that includes the Boston Globe schedules a debate, will Brown insist that the Globe not endorse? And what will Brown say if the Boston Herald, as is its wont, puts together its own debate? Surely he won’t ask the paper to withhold its all-but-certain Brown endorsement.

As for MSNBC, the debate organizers could prevent the channel from carrying it live. Afterwards, though, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and company would be free to show clips and comment on them whether they had carried the full debate or not. The fair-use provision of the copyright law guarantees that — not to mention the First Amendment.

And why did I say the debate would be held before a neutral audience? Because you can be sure the Brown and Warren campaigns would insist on equal numbers of partisans in the audience. So the Kennedy Institute’s sponsorship isn’t an issue, either.

I know some observers have questioned Brokaw’s alleged liberal bias. But since that hasn’t been raised by the Brown campaign, we have to assume he had no problem with Brokaw as moderator. When Brokaw moderated a debate between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, he seemed mainly interested in making sure neither candidate exceeded his allotted time. Liberal or not, Brokaw has earned his status as a fair-minded journalist who can be trusted not to throw the debate to either candidate.

It’s also hard to figure why Brown suddenly has a problem with Vicki Kennedy or the Kennedy Institute, given that he took part in a debate with Martha Coakley two years ago that was co-sponsored by the institute without setting any preconditions. As Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis points out, it was only a year ago that Brown couldn’t say enough good things about the late Ted Kennedy’s widow.

Globe columnist Scot Lehigh thinks Brown’s demands were “reasonable,” and he gives the senator credit for sticking to them. Yet Lehigh doesn’t tell us what Brown could possibly gain by failing to take part.

As my Northeastern colleague Alan Schroeder, an expert on political debates, puts it, “They’re making such an ­effort to portray Brown as someone with bipartisan credentials who can work with Democrats, and yet here’s this relatively mild example of cooperating with a Democrat, and they’re balking at it.”

Boston Phoenix political columnist David Bernstein wonders if Brown is trying to curry favor with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which has had its own issues with Vicki Kennedy.

Who knows what Brown and his advisers are thinking? Their political astuteness is generally beyond question. Maybe this will prove to be a smart move. Right now, though, it looks like a rare misstep, especially curious given that Brown initially made the Warren campaign look flat-footed with his rapid acceptance of several debate invitations.

My own bias is in favor of as many debates as possible, regardless of the venue. For instance, I don’t understand why Warren won’t say yes to WBZ Radio (AM 1030) talk-show host Dan Rea, who is conservative but is as fair as they come.

The candidates really don’t have anything better to do. How would we prefer they spend their time? Making television ads? Attending fundraisers? Of course not. They should spend as much time as possible side by side, talking about the issues. It’s not always the most edifying experience, but it’s better than any conceivable alternatives.

Photo (cc) by Michael Kwan and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Scott Brown’s flexible New Year’s resolution

Click on image for Boston Herald story and video

Argh. I see Politico beat me to it. But I do want to take note of a rather remarkable statement that U.S. Sen. Scott Brown made Friday on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) — that he had not touched alcohol since Jan. 1, and wouldn’t until the polls close on Election Day. According to the Associated Press, “Brown called the decision ‘one of those New Year’s things’ that he did ‘on a stupid bet.'”

Well, as Politico puts it, “It depends on what the definition of ‘drinking’ is for Brown.” Because just a week earlier, he allowed Boston Herald reporter Hillary Chabot to accompany him on a day of campaigning. And one of his stops was the Blue Hills Brewery in Canton. “He likes the Red IPA, by the way,” Chabot says in the John Wilcox video that accompanies her story.

In the video, Brown can be seen sampling the brewery’s wares, but if he took more than a sip, the camera didn’t capture it. Chabot’s story resulted in a brief flurry on Twitter among those who thought Brown was setting a bad example by drinking and driving (his truck, of course).

That criticism struck me as overwrought, and it still does. Chabot wrote only that Brown “tasted one of the lighter brews,” although she quoted him as saying of the Red IPA: “You can pound those pretty good.” Sounds like he may need a designated driver in the wee hours of Nov. 7.

But I guess he needs to revise his New Year’s resolution to “No Drinking until Election Day Except with Hillary Chabot.”

Following up on those Senate fundraising numbers

I have figured out why there is a disparity between the U.S. Senate fundraising numbers in Brian Mooney’s Boston Globe story today and in the chart that accompanies his story. It involves the difference between itemized contributions (those of $200 or more) and non-itemized contributions. (My earlier item.)

Mooney’s story mentions it, but it’s unclear from the context what the significance is. Now I understand it, thanks to some labeling that’s been added to the chart since this morning. The Globe’s metro editor, Jen Peter, walked me through it as well.

I’ll explain this with the numbers reported for Sen. Scott Brown’s Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. Warren reported raising $5.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. That number comprises both itemized and non-itemized contributions. Mooney reported that 61.3 percent of Warren’s itemized contributions were from out of state.

Now let’s turn to the chart, to which the phrase “Itemized donations available from FEC” was appended sometime after my first post. Here we learn that Warren raised $1.2 million in itemized in-state contributions during the fourth quarter and $1.9 million in itemized out-of-state contributions. That’s a total of $3.1 million. And yes, $1.9 million is 61.3 percent of $3.1 million.

What you can’t do, as I did earlier today, is take that 61.3 percent and apply it to Warren’s $5.7 million total. That’s because $2.6 million of that total is non-itemized, and thus there’s no way of knowing how much came from out of state and how much came from Massachusetts residents.

Bottom line: Brown beat Warren in itemized, in-state contributions by a margin of $1.5 million to $1.2 million. And we just have no way of knowing with respect to non-itemized contributions of less than $200.

Both Mooney’s story and the chart are accurate, but they are reporting different facts. Mooney does not mention Brown and Warren’s itemized totals; the chart does not mention their overall totals.

Much ado about not much? Yes. But it was a puzzle, and it reached a point where I was determined to solve it. So there you go.

Which Senate candidate is raising more money in-state?

So which U.S. Senate candidate is raising more money from Massachusetts residents? The Republican incumbent, Scott Brown, or his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren?

The emphasis in today’s Boston Globe story by Brian Mooney is on Warren’s out-of-state fundraising prowess. But I thought it would be interesting to dive a little deeper into the numbers. What I discovered is that either someone at the Globe is math-impaired — or that my own dubious math abilities have led me astray.

Let’s start, as I did, with Mooney’s story, which tell us that (1) Warren raised $5.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, 61.3 percent of it from out of state; and (2) Brown raised $3.2 million, 66 percent of it from inside the Bay State. By those numbers, Warren raised $2.2 million in Massachusetts and Brown raised $2.1 million. That would mean Warren isn’t just a national fundraising phenomenon, but she’s also doing better than Brown where it really matters.

But wait. After I read the story, I took a look at the bar graph accompanying it — and was informed (misinformed?) that Brown had raised $1.5 million in Massachusetts during the fourth quarter compared to just $1.2 million for Warren. The overall fundraising totals in the graph are much lower than what’s in Mooney’s story, so there’s clearly an apples-and-oranges problem somewhere.

But what is the problem? I’m not sure. Neither the story nor the chart explains the disparity. We’re talking about math, so I don’t rule out the possibility that there’s a simple explanation staring me right in the face. Any thoughts?