BOSTON — Democrat Elizabeth Warren, architect of the consumer watchdog agency set up by the Obama administration after the meltdown on Wall Street, was elected to the Senate on Tuesday, winning a hard-fought victory against Republican Sen. Scott Brown in the most expensive Senate contest in the nation.
The race took on epic proportions as the candidates spent a combined $68 million and hurled charges and countercharges in an increasingly bitter campaign that was watched closely by both national parties as they dueled for control of the upper chamber.
Warren becomes the first woman elected to the Senate from Massachusetts.
Warren, a Harvard Law professor making her first attempt at elective office, helped create the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the mortgage crisis and the meltdown 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.
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.”
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.
Bob Long, a 73-year-old retired accountant from Saugus, said he backed Brown and didn’t buy Warren’s campaign pitch that she was the better candidate for the middle class.
“He’s a local guy from Wakefield. I think he’s well-schooled in the needs of the average person. We all know what his background is. We all know that he didn’t come with a silver spoon in his mouth,” Long said. “That’s why I find it hard to think that he would be worrying about any millionaires.”
Fellow Saugus resident Ethel Swirka, 80, decided to vote for Warren.
“I like what she’s going to do, or going to try to do … protect Medicare and Social Security,” Swirka said, adding that she also liked the idea of voting for a woman. “I think women should have more say in the way the government is run. It’s not a man’s world anymore.”