Elizabeth Warren draws even in latest poll of Massachusetts Senate race

Former Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren (D) trails incumbent Scott Brown (R) by only one point in a new Suffolk University poll, the first one since Warren’s claims about her Native American heritage came under scrutiny. The Fix’s Rachel Weiner reports:

Native American cookbooks and college directories have not had much impact on the Senate race in Massachusetts.

A new poll from Suffolk University/7NEWS finds Sen. Scott Brown (R) and Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren (D) in a dead heat, 48 percent to 47 percent. Suffolk last polled the race in February and found Brown had a nine-point lead.

Only five percent of voters are undecided.

Seventy-two percent of likely voters were aware of the controversy concerning Warren’s heritage and whether she used it to advance her career. Brown’s campaign has been hammering the issue for weeks, calling on Warren to release her academic records.

Of those who were aware of the story, 49 percent said Warren was telling the truth about being part Native American; 28 percent said she was not telling the truth; and 23 percent weren’t sure. Forty-one percent thought Warren benefited by listing herself as a minority in law school directories, while 45 percent said she did not.

But 69 percent of likely voters said that Warren’s Native American heritage listing is not a significant story, while 27 percent said that it is.

Columnist George Will made the case on Tuesday’s op-ed page that Warren’s claims about her ancestry is “pertinent because it is, in all its silliness, applied liberalism.”

The kerfuffle that has earned Warren such sobriquets as “Spouting Bull” and “Fauxcahontas” began with reports that Harvard Law School, in routine academic preening about diversity (in everything but thought), listed her as a minority faculty member, as did the University of Pennsylvania when she taught there. She said that some in her family had “high cheekbones like all of the Indians do.” The New England Historic Genealogical Society said that a document confirmed the family lore of Warren’s Cherokee ancestry, but it later backtracked. She has said that she did not know Harvard was listing her as a minority in the 1990s, but Harvard was echoing her: From 1986 through 1995, starting before she came to Harvard, a directory published by the Association of American Law Schools listed her as a minority and says its listings are based on professors claiming minority status.

[Check out what commenters are saying about this column in Rachel Manteuffel’s PostScript.]

So, although no evidence has been found that Warren is part Indian, for years two universities listed her as such. She has identified herself as a minority, as when, signing her name “Elizabeth Warren — Cherokee,” she submitted a crab recipe (Oklahoma crabs?) to a supposedly Indian cookbook. This is a political problem.

A poll taken before this controversy found her Republican opponent Scott Brown trouncing her on “likability,” 57 percent to 23 percent. Even Democrats broke for Brown 40 to 38. Now she is a comic figure associated with laughable racial preferences. She who wants Wall Street “held accountable” is accountable for two elite law schools advertising her minority status. She who accuses Wall Street of gaming the financial system at least collaborated with, and perhaps benefited from, the often absurd obsession with “diversity.”

How absurd? Warren says that for almost a decade she listed herself in the AALS directory as a Native American because she hoped to “meet others like me.” This well-educated, highly paid, much-honored (she was a consumer protection adviser to President Obama) member of America’s upper 1 percent went looking for people “who are like I am” among Native Americans?

This makes perfect sense to a liberal subscriber to the central superstition of the diversity industry, which is the premise of identity politics: Personhood is distilled not to the content of character but only to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference.

This controversy has discombobulated liberalism’s crusade to restore Democratic possession of the Senate seat the party won in 1952 with John Kennedy and held until 2010, when Brown captured it after Ted Kennedy’s death. Lofty thinkers and exasperated liberals consider the focus on Warren’s fanciful ancestry a distraction from serious stuff. (Such as The Post’s nearly 5,500-word wallow in teenage Mitt Romney’s prep school comportment?) But Warren’s adult dabbling in identity politics is pertinent because it is, in all its silliness, applied liberalism.

The New York Times Magazine’s headline on its profile of her — “Heaven Is a Place Called Elizabeth Warren” — suggests the chord she strikes with liberals. They resonate to identity politics of the sort Warren’s campaign tried when, on the defensive, it resorted, of course, to claiming victimhood. Playing the gender card, it insinuated that criticism of her adventures as a minority amounts to a sexist attack on an accomplished woman. But an accomplished woman, Susan Collins of Maine, the only Republican senator rated more liberal than Brown (who last year voted with his party only 54 percent of the time on partisan issues), called this insinuation “patently absurd.”

Karen Tumulty responded to Will’s column in a She the People post later Thursday.

The biggest surprise in the new Suffolk University poll out Thursday is how unfazed by the flap the citizenry there appears to be.

It is not that people haven’t heard of the furor around Warren’s claim, based on family lore, that she is 1/32nd Cherokee, and the questions that have been raised about whether she reaped some professional benefit from the designation.

How could they not, given the amount of coverage the story has received since it broke last month in the Boston Herald?

In the poll, 72 percent of those surveyed said they had heard of the controversy, but 69 percent said they did not regard it as significant.

Perhaps more important in a race that — as I wrote a few weeks back --is likely to come down to independent voters, are the crosstabs. They show that 63 percent of male independents and 68 percent of female independents consider the heritage claim a non-issue.

There is good news for Republican incumbent Sen. Scott Brown in the poll, as well. Voters also appear unconcerned about his ties to Wall Street, which have been the focus of Warren’s campaign attacks. Fifty-five percent overall--and even greater shares of independents--disagreed with the statement that a vote for Brown is a vote for Wall Street.

But perhaps the most refreshing news from the surveys was pointed out by Reid Wilson, over at National Journal’s Hotline On Call. In a year when so much of the electorate is dyspeptic, Massachusetts voters (so far) actually seem to like their U.S. Senate candidates.

Why is this? Certainly, it offers more evidence that Brown and Warren are both strong contenders.

David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, told me that this upbeat attitude also reflects an improvement in how Massachusetts voters view their own circumstances, including an uptick in the economy.

“People are in a much better frame of mind, except the haters on both sides,” Paleologos said.

But there is another element that could be at play. In a year when SuperPACs are shaping so much of the conversation in politics, Brown and Warren have taken what is being called “the people’s pledge”against allowing in outside campaign money. It works like this: If a third-party group runs an ad that benefits one of the candidates, that candidate has to pay a penalty in the form of a contribution to a charity selected by the other.

Thus far, there has been only one breach — Brown had to write a check for more than $35,000 to an autism group.

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Natalie Jennings is a Web producer for PostTV.
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