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.