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In this 2012 election, most of the focus is on the top of the ticket. Can President Obama maintain, or increase his lead over Republican nominee Mitt Romney? Will “deep pockets” Romney prevaricate enough in his ubiquitous advertising to turn the tide? Recent news suggests fundraising for Mr. Romney has recently faltered. That, too, is the fodder for national news as the super-PACS decide how to spend their money. How will the debates go? What about those battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida (among others)?

If you go further down on the ticket there are some interesting races that will, perhaps, both determine the direction of the United States Senate and allow those with progressive views a platform for their work. In Massachusetts, for example, Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren is challenging incumbent Republican Scott Brown for his Senate seat. Brown was elected to serve the unfilled portion of Senator Edward Kennedy’s term after his tragic death more than two years ago years ago. Brown’s win was something of a surprise in a state that is mostly Democratic, but he faced a tepid challenger and was able to pull out a victory. Even in Democratic Massachusetts, it is difficult to unseat an incumbent. Elizabeth Warren is doing her best.

Whether you live in Massachusetts or not, this is a race to watch. First of all, those who support President Obama’s agenda understand that a Democratic majority in the Senate will assist in the realization of that agenda. Brown pledged, when he was elected in 2010, to block that agenda. More importantly, is the work that Elizabeth Warren has done on consumer protection. I’d love to see her involved in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs to continue the work she started when she designed the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In the wake of the home mortgage debacle that left more than a third of all Americans with “underwater” mortgages, consumers can certainly use some protection. In too many cases, borrowers have not fully read the fine print in their mortgage forms or contracts, but one might ask why the fine print has to be so fine. In other words, can’t consumers get documents that spell out, in plain English, what the terms and conditions of loans are? Have you ever read the three-page attachment to your credit card bill? When you do you may find a change in interest rates buried in the form.

President Obama wanted Elizabeth Warren to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but she was not nominated because it was unlikely that she could get confirmation in a pro-business Senate. Warren’s advocacy for consumers is often seen as hostility toward banks, which isn’t necessarily the case unless banks are ripping their customers off. Given the number off people who have been hurt by banking chicanery, the Senate should have embraced, not eschewed Warren. It will be ironic if the Senate, now, will have to work with her as a colleague. And it will be amazing and uplifting to see Professor Warren continue her passionate advocacy for consumers.

Of course, Warren can’t be a one-issue candidate, which is why she is correct in point out that Senator Scott Brown opposed pay equity legislation. Brown has replied to this allegation by talking about his wife and daughters, but Romney and Ryan also have wives and children. Being married with children does not make you an automatic advocate of pay equity. After watching both the Democratic and the Republican conventions, I got a bit tired of people using biography as public policy. The fact that someone is a “good man” does not make him a good candidate unless character is connected to a political agenda. The fact that Brown has a wife and two daughters is neither commendable nor despicable. It’s a fact, just like his vote against pay equity is a fact.
This is a race to watch as closely as the presidential election because it has far-reaching implications. Elizabeth Warren, an advocate for consumers, deserves to be the United States Senator from Massachusetts.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is a member of the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), an economist, author and Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at California State University at Los Angeles.