Khazei Preaches Pragmatism in Bid to Upset Warren
BOSTON--Alan Khazei, the self-described underdog in the Massachusetts Senate Democratic primary, is working to claim ground as the pragmatic deal-maker in the race and position Elizabeth Warren as an intractable partisan.
Khazei told National Journal he would agree to cuts in entitlement programs Washington Democrats have defended -- including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- in order to reduce the deficit. He said he would have joined the Gang of Six and praised Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who dropped out of leadership last week because, he said, he wanted to operate with "an independent attitude."
"I'm one candidate who is saying you need both sides of the balance sheet," Khazei told National Journal, saying he would endeavor for a "grand bargain" deficit reduction blueprint. "I wouldn't start and say you can't do anything on Social Security, you can't do anything on Medicare. Because we have to do a grand bargain."
With one day left in third-quarter fundraising, Khazei declined to provide even a ballpark estimate of his take, saying only he would not match last quarter's $925,000 haul and was "on track" to meet his budget, which he did not disclose. A Khazei adviser said it was important not to reach $500,000 for the quarter, but instead to be "well north of anyone but Warren" and that Khazei would reach that goal. It was important, the adviser said, to top Newton Mayor Setti Warren's total -- less of a factor after Setti Warren quit the race Thursday, citing "overwhelming political and financial odds."
The new, center-seeking strategy is a gamble for Khazei: taking ground to the right of his front-running opponent in a Democratic primary. He is pinning its success on the hope that voters will choose a more pragmatic candidate whose goal is constructive compromise over the take-it-to-'em figure Warren has cultivated in the early days of her campaign.
Warren, recruited by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and embraced by much of the Bay State's progressive establishment, has exploded to frontrunner status even as some Democrats are uneasy that the prospect of a Beltway-produced candidate with a Harvard Law School professor profile could play into Brown's hands. Brown on Wednesday told National Journal that Warren was far to the left of Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democrat he beat in last year's upset.
A viral video of her rebutting GOP charges of "class warfare" against efforts by President Obama and congressional Democrats to raise taxes has energized Democrats and drawn fire from Republicans. A fundraising email from Brown said her "inflammatory rhetoric will divide the country."
During an interview at his Boston campaign headquarters, where nullified Boston Red Sox tickets hang in irony on one wall, Khazei expressed frustration with the way Warren had entered the race.
"The people in Washington are not going to decide this election," he said, rapping the table in front of him. "The voters in Massachusetts are going to decide the election. And it's a year away. The powerbrokers in Washington want to have a coronation. They want to have it be over before it's even started. I believe in democracy."
He went on, "And I don't know why, especially people from the Democratic Party, don't want to empower the voters. My whole life is about empowering people. Why do they want to pull the strings? We're the Democratic Party. This is what we accuse Republicans of doing all the time."
Saying, "This has been tried before," Khazei pointed to Gov. Deval Patrick's out-of-nowhere victory over Attorney General Thomas Reilly in the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary as evidence that Bay State voters don't always opt for the candidate with establishment support. Two top Patrick advisers, Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan, are guiding Warren's campaign.
Khazei speaks frequently on his work in Washington to restore funding for Americorps, faced in 2003 with an 80 percent funding cut that was ultimately reversed after a bipartisan coalition that Khazei helped organize bucked. It's the type of experience he'll need to amplify to compete with Warren, whose experience molding the federal government is well known. And it's the type of aisle-crossing progress that is becoming central to his argument against both Warren and Brown.
"My big criticism of Scott Brown is at a time when the country is dying for leadership, he has been AWOL," Khazei said, adding, "He said he wanted to change the tone, he said he was going to be different when he was elected. It's gotten worse, not better."
Khazei said he had pledged to supporters he would sit down with every Republican senator individually within the first 90 days of his swearing-in, hoping to forge relationships with which he could help broker deals.
"I'm confident from doing that I'm going to emerge with six, seven, eight relationships," Khazei said.