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Elizabeth Warren faces early test in Mass. Senate race

Associated Press | 9/21/2011, 12:39 a.m.

WASHINGTON — Democrat Elizabeth Warren is off and running in Massachusetts, but it’s unclear whether the political novice has the campaigning skills to credibly challenge Republican Sen. Scott Brown in what promises to be one of 2012’s marquee races.

Warren is largely untested as a candidate, having spent nearly two decades as a Harvard Law professor and consumer advocate.

She’s a liberal darling with the potential to raise loads of cash, but it remains to be seen whether Warren has the political skills to handle a major campaign, particularly the media scrutiny and hardball tactics that are standard fare in big Massachusetts races.

“Most first-time candidates imagine they’re fine with criticism, they can handle it,” said Todd Domke, a veteran Massachusetts GOP consultant. “But you can’t really prepare for how nasty it gets.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., scoffed at suggestions Warren is untested. He cited her recent work on Capitol Hill chairing a panel overseeing the federal bank bailout and setting up a new consumer protection agency for the Obama administration in the face of stiff GOP opposition.

Warren showed her mettle standing up to Republicans during several appearances at congressional hearings and in TV interviews, McGovern said.

“She’s had to deal with Republican senators and congressman who were pretty brutal,” he said. “She gave back as good as they threw at her.”

Brown’s campaign account bulges with nearly $10 million. A recent Boston Globe poll showed Brown as the most popular major politician in the blue state. But the race is important to Democrats hoping to keep control of the narrowly divided Senate in 2012 because they see Brown as one of the few GOP incumbents they can pick off. Democrats desperate for a major challenger courted Warren to join the crowded primary field.

Warren’s skills as a candidate especially matter in Massachusetts, where Democrat Martha Coakley’s fumbling campaign helped Brown win the special election last year for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat. While a confident Coakley coasted in the blue state, Brown outworked her and won over voters as a personable guy who drove a pickup truck.

In a state that’s passionate about the Boston Red Sox, Democrats still cringe at how Coakley famously stumbled by mistakenly referring to former Sox pitching star Curt Schilling as a New York Yankees fan. Coakley also mocked Brown for greeting voters outside Boston’s Fenway Park in wintry weather, a costly gaffe because she was seen as taking voters for granted.

Already, Massachusetts Republicans are eager to create a replay. They fired off a press release blasting Warren for declining to name members of the Red Sox during one of her first campaign stops in July. A TV interviewer asked if she was up to speed on the Red Sox given Coakley’s gaffes, and Warren responded that it was her husband who follows the Sox and all the Boston teams.

Domke said such flaps are really about a candidate’s authenticity.

“In politics, in the age of TV, persona is destiny,” said Domke.