Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor and architect of the consumer watchdog agency set up by the Obama administration after the meltdown on Wall Street, was elected to the Senate yesterday, winning a hard-fought victory against Republican Sen. Scott Brown in the year’s most expensive Senate contest in the nation.
The race took on epic proportions as the candidates spent a total of more than $68 million and hurled charges and countercharges in an increasingly bitter campaign that was watched closely by both national parties while they dueled for control of the upper chamber of Congress.
Warren becomes the first woman elected to the Senate from Massachusetts.
With about 83 percent of the vote in at about midnight last night, Warren had almost 53 percent to 47 percent for Brown. An exit poll conducted by the University of Massachusetts showed that Warren won the women’s vote by 20 percentage points, while men split evenly between the candidates.
“You and I have waged a great campaign,” Brown told supporters at a Boston hotel in conceding defeat. “We stood strong in the fight, and we stand strong now even in disappointment.”
Warren, a Democrat making her first attempt at elected office, was tapped by President Obama to build the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the mortgage crisis and the financial abuses exposed on Wall Street. Brown went to Washington after stunning the Democrats by winning a 2010 special election for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat.
Brown won every community in the Merrimack Valley except for Lawrence, which Warren took in a landslide. He squeaked by in Haverhill, winning by 1,450 votes out of 27,499 cast, and won by comfortable margins in Methuen and the Andovers. In Lawrence, Warren won 15,244 to 4,092.
Sean and Jen Kelley, who voted at Tenney Grammar School in Methuen yesterday evening, said they voted for Brown because they liked the senator’s bipartisan record.
“I like the fact that Scott Brown is more independent and work with both sides of the isle,” Sean Kelly said.
His wife agreed. “He’s done a good job voting for what’s in the state’s best interest,” she said.
Over at Marsh Grammar School, Marcia Burns-Mittler, a teacher in Bedford, said Warren impressed her early on. “With everything she wants to do for the middle class, that’s very appealing to me,” she said.
The two candidates agreed to take no outside money from super PACs and other independent groups but still raised staggering amounts, with the GOP hoping to solidify its gains in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, and the Democrats mortified by the thought of a Republican serving in the seat held for 47 years by the foremost liberal on Capitol Hill.
Warren stumbled early over questions of her claims of Indian heritage and her decision to identify herself as a minority in law school directories from 1986 to 1995.
She said she was told by her family that her mother had Cherokee and Delaware Indian background, but she was unable to provide documentation. Brown accused her of misrepresenting her background and using it to help land a job at Harvard, something Warren and those who hired her denied.
Warren found herself the butt of jokes from bloggers and columnists. The issue later backfired on Brown when some of his staffers were caught on video at one his campaign rallies mocking Warren by doing a “tomahawk chop” and shouting war whoops. Brown condemned the behavior.
Warren cast herself as a fighter for the middle class and portrayed Brown as beholden to “big oil” and “millionaires and billionaires.” But Brown hammered Warren for her legal work advising clients such as Traveler’s Insurance and LTV Steel in bankruptcy proceedings that Brown said exposed Warren as hypocritical in her claim to be champion of the working class.
Women’s issues such as access to birth control and abortion played a large role in the campaign, as did the candidates’ positions on tax cuts for the middle class and highest earners. Warren cast Brown as a senator who voted against tax breaks for the middle class and stood up for the financial interests of “millionaires and billionaires” instead of working families.
Brown was elected with tea party backing two years ago but steered a more centrist course in the Senate. During his campaign against Warren, he downplayed his GOP roots and touted instances in which he broke with his party, including supporting the creation of the financial watchdog agency and backing the rights of gays to serve openly in the military.
Warren supporters gathered at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza to watch the votes come in. Union officials, who had staked their political reputations on a Warren win, said the victory vindicates their efforts.
The State House News Service contributed to this report.
Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.