Another Imaginary Democratic Crisis–in Massachusetts

If you’ve been following either conservative or MSM coverage of the Massachusetts Senate race, you are probably under the impression that the recent brouhaha over Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren’s occasional self-identification as a Native American has taken over the contest and vastly boosted Scott Brown’s prospects for reelection.

Now comes a new poll from Suffolk showing (a) Warren making significant gains since the last Suffolk poll in February, and (b) voters not paying much attention to the “Cherokee” flap, despite saturation coverage in local and national media.

The Politico story on the poll by David Catanese notes that respondents adjudged it as “not a significant story” by a 69-27 margin. A lot of this sentiment reflects the usual partisan polarization, but if you look at the crosstabs, self-identified independents (over half the sample) called the story insignificant by a 66-29 margin, and even 40% of Republicans didn’t think it mattered.

That’s pretty interesting, since anyone reading the Boston Herald the last few weeks would have though the “controversy” doomed Warren, doomed affirmative action, and doomed Barack Obama, the supposed beneficiary of affirmative action.

As Catanese notes, the poll is generating sighs of relief from Democrats in Massachusetts and in Washington, particularly given the general impression that Warren’s campaign hasn’t handled the attacks terribly well:

The Suffolk poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, produced a result similar to an internal poll taken by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to quash speculation that Warren was hemorrhaging support due to the ancestry flap.

The DSCC survey, taken by Harstad Strategic Research May 8-10, resulted in a deadlocked race at 46 percent.

While Republicans argue that Brown has been outspent by Warren on advertising over the past month, Democrats are heartened by the pair of surveys showing the damage to their candidate to be minimal.

“When you look at the last month or so that Elizabeth Warren has had, you have to say she weathered the storm. The fact that she’s picked up 8 points shows she’s a better candidate than people think, a more resilient candidate than some would’ve thought,” said Boston-based Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh.

There’s a long way to go until November, but it’s increasingly likely that Warren will be able to get back on track and on message, promoting economic themes where she has a natural advantage over Brown. In the end, MA is a heavily Democratic state; Scott Brown is in the Senate thanks to a flukey victory in the general election; and as a candidate, Elizabeth Warren is no Martha Coakely.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.