CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren invoked the memory of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) in remarks to the Bay State's Democratic delegation here, a day before she is set to take the stage at the Democratic National Convention.
Warren, hoping to unseat Republican Sen. Scott Brown, recalled a long meeting she had with Kennedy in the mid 1990s about bankruptcy and its effect on working families. She talked about Kennedy's decade of work against a bankruptcy reform bill that she said wasn't in the interest of working people.
"Ted Kennedy changed my life," Warren said. "He changed how I understood what it is that a public servant does. And I think of him in this race every single day. And I come to this convention and I think of him every single hour."
Warren then launched into a denunciation of the Republican agenda and honed in on an economic message to the supportive crowd. The distillation of her remarks — like her campaign's message — is that she is for the little guy, for the middle class. What was left to allusion: her opponent isn't.
"We believe that everyone should pay a fair share, including the richest and wealthiest," Warren said to applause. "We believe that the middle class should not be hammered harder with tax increases to pay for more tax cuts for the wealthy. And we believe in investing in our future, in education and roads and bridges."
The white-hot race between Warren and Brown is perhaps the most competitive Senate contest in the nation, with polls showing the candidates locked in a dead heat.
Both candidates have been working to define themselves to voters and have, so far, steered clear of negative ads.
"Warren is a relatively new entity for a lot of voters in Massachusetts," Bay State Rep. Jim McGovern (D) said in an interview. "I think she's a terrific candidate and I think she's doing pretty well."
But McGovern, who praised Warren's skill as a campaigner and the organization she has put together, said that she might need to shift her messaging a bit.
"I think she needs to humanize her messaging a little bit more and, by that, I mean I think there are a lot of third-party validators out there that are local that could remind voters in Massachusetts what this election means for them," he said.
Perhaps the most important local figure who could decisively shift the dynamic of this race in Warren's favor is politically powerful Boston Mayor Tom Menino (D).
He held court not far from the conference room where Warren spoke but declined to endorse either candidate in the Senate race, despite a fusillade of questions from reporters.
"I don't play games with politics. I take it very seriously," he said. "But it's not my time to do it. I'm trying to make sure what I do is the right thing."
However, Menino seemed to tip his hand about which direction he was leaning.
"This is a very serious campaign, because if the Democrats don't win the Senate, don't win the presidency, what will happen to America and all the benefits we have?" he asked.
A Warren victory would, of course, make the path to a Republican Senate majority in November much steeper.
Menino had kind words for Warren.
"Elizabeth Warren has some real good positions on education, on the issue of community development block grant money, on the issue of jobs and also on the health care," he said.
But the mayor also had praise for Brown.
"Scott Brown is a good campaigner. He's been out there working hard," Menino said. "He's probably the best retail politician in the state."
If — or more likely when — he endorses in the Senate race, Menino, who controls a significant get-out-the-vote operation in the state's largest city, said he'd give it his all.
"When I get [into] a campaign, I never do it half-baked," he said. "I do it all the way."
Roll Call rates the Massachusetts Senate race a Tossup.