MA: Warren may retool TV ads

September 12, 2012

By Frank Phillips, Boston Globe Staff

Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren — amid growing unrest from party activists and leaders — is facing pressure to make a major shift in her television advertising with a new series of commercials that seek to soften her image, while focusing more directly on her GOP rival, Senator Scott Brown.

According to top Democratic leaders in Massachusetts, Warren campaign advisers are considering a new strategy that will be aimed at toning down what those leaders call the preachy tone that has dominated her ads until now. Instead, some of the spots would rely more on the voices of voters from all walks of life describing what Warren’s supporters say is the warm personality of a popular university professor. They would also zero in on Brown, acknowledging that while he is a likable public figure, he is not the moderate Republican that he makes himself out to be.

Television ads are considered critical to wooing independent voters in one of the most hotly contested Senate races nationwide.

The Warren campaign said Tuesday that no decisions have been made, but advisers conceded they have been feeling pressure regarding the thrust of the media strategy in these final weeks. Warren’s team — including media consultant and former Clinton aide Mandy Grunwald and top adviser Doug Rubin — has been huddled in meetings considering options.

In the past few days, a film crew has been spotted following Warren at public events in Worcester and Barre, and capturing her chatting with voters in Lowell.

The pressure on Warren to shift her media strategy comes as Democrats, including some in Washington, have become worried that her commercials give off an unappealing image. Several of the spots that ran through the summer featured Warren speaking directly to the camera, projecting what they termed a know-it-all and even off-putting likeness.

With her animated speaking style and tendency to gesticulate, Warren at times comes across as a “scolding advocate,” they said, while Brown’s own ads have helped him polish his image as a likable, Massachusetts-rooted political figure.

A half-dozen Democrats asked about the ads insisted that Warren, while an exciting and eminently likable candidate, must change her media strategy if she is to beat Brown. Each declined to be quoted on the record because of the political sensitivity of the issue.

The problem came into sharp focus at last week’s Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., when Warren and her advisers were criticized by local and national Democrats. The criticisms seemed to resonate. As she headed out of the convention hall for her trip home, she signaled to one fellow Democrat: “Message received.’’

Observers, too, say the current ads do not seem to be working.

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