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National Spotlight Tests Elizabeth Warren's Operation

Courtesy Massachusetts Teachers Association

BOSTON — Amid a rousing standing ovation for Elizabeth Warren from hundreds of teachers here Saturday, the concern Massachusetts and national Democrats have about the state of the Harvard University professor’s Senate campaign seemed far away.

Warren has stumbled to recover from the revelation that she intermittently claimed Native American ancestry during her academic career. But among her base at the Massachusetts Teachers Association’s annual meeting of delegates, the support for Warren was strong and unwavering. When she took the stage at the Hynes Convention Center, the candidate was received with booming applause that would have been louder if dozens of teachers hadn’t been snapping photos with their cellphones.

The worry among Democrats is not so much that this controversy will be an issue that sinks her campaign or moves that many voters — it won’t, and polls show Warren neck and neck with GOP Sen. Scott Brown. But rather, her reaction to it reveals an operation that may not be agile enough to deal with the vicissitudes of a hard-fought battle in the national spotlight.

Warren, the presumptive Democratic nominee, didn’t mention the prickly issue of her heritage during her speech.

While coverage of the flap has begun to subside almost three weeks after the story first broke, it hasn’t gone away.

One top Massachusetts Democratic strategist who is an ally of the campaign groused that if Warren’s camp didn’t know she had claimed Native American ancestry for years, they were guilty of “incompetence,” and if they knew and didn’t prepare her properly for the onslaught of questions, they were guilty of “malpractice.”

Former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1998, said Warren was doing very well but that the controversy revealed miscalculations within her campaign apparatus.

“The campaign came to rely an awful lot on her ability and probably that was expecting too much,” he said, noting she was a first-time politician. Warren is “a candidate who is just learning how to handle these kind of curveballs, and that’s where you, as a campaign, whether it’s [campaign manager] Mindy Myers or [senior adviser] Doug Rubin ... have to dig deeper so they knew more about this or just be aware that these kind of things are coming.”

Evan Bayh, a former Democratic Senator from Indiana who remains plugged in to national political trends, said the controversy wouldn’t move a lot of voters. But “letting something extraneous like this linger out there, just takes her off message and affects her momentum and who needs that?” he said.

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