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Two Down, Two to Go: Scott Brown Outshines Elizabeth Warren in MA Senate Debate

Tonight marked the second of four scheduled debates between incumbent Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. The topics of discussion ranged from the personal to the substantive -- allowing both candidates ample opportunity to make their pitch to voters. So let’s dive right in. The following is my gut reaction to how each candidate performed:


Scott Brown is a gifted debater. He was poised, prepared and aggressive all night -- always ready with a quick riposte to any misleading or factually inaccurate charge leveled against him. And he was relentless. When Elizabeth Warren asserted that she did indeed self-identify as a Native American, Brown raised the incontrovertible fact that at the pinnacle of her academic career -- after receiving tenure at Harvard Law School -- she suddenly and inexplicably stopped publicly listing herself as an ethnic minority in 1995. He further criticized her initial response to this ongoing “scandal” (for lack of a better term), suggesting she deliberately mislead the public after the Boston Herald broke the story. Again, of course, he called for her to release her personnel records -- a request I highly doubt she will take seriously, let alone comply with. As expected, Brown also noted that his opponent has a propensity to represent big corporations, often times obtaining substantial fees as compensation for her legal services. This challenge effectively took an axe to the otherwise cheery narrative that Elizabeth Warren is somehow a “candidate of the people.” In short, I felt Warren’s rebuttals during this segment were woefully inadequate for the charges leveled against her. And her inability to set the record straight might have tilted the debate in Senator’s Brown favor.

On a different note, as I discussed in my preview post, one of the challenges Senator Brown faces is that the Massachusetts electorate overwhelming supports Barack Obama for re-election. Doubtless understanding this, Scott Brown -- on several occasions-- explicitly mentioned instances when he reached across the aisle to support The One’s legislative agenda. For example, he noted how he supported the Hire A Hero Act of 2011 (S. 367) -- and was deeply proud to stand with the president when he signed it into law. “A good idea is a good idea wherever it comes from,” he intoned. He also made repeated references to the fact that he was ranked the second most bipartisan Senator in Congress -- “I vote fifty percent with my party and fifty percent with the Democratic Party” -- and stated he would continue the tradition if re-reelected. Interestingly, when asked if he would vote to re-elect Mitch McConnell as Senate Minority Leader (or Majority Leader, depending on the outcome of the election) he said he was “disgusted” by the partisanship in Washington. “[McConnell] has a lot to do to earn my vote,” he snarked. I suspect this was a deliberate attempt to distance himself from the deeply unpopular Massachusetts GOP -- a party he at times seems to forget counts him as a member.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he sought to portray his opponent as a tax-and-spend Leftist – an intransigent liberal Democrat opposed to working with Republicans. And it may have worked. Indeed, Elizabeth Warren came dangerously close to committing the night’s first and only gaffe. When asked what Republican Senator in Congress, specifically, she would work with if elected to the upper chamber, she replied “Richard Lugar,” a soon-to-be retired lawmaker who (involuntarily) lost his primary bid this year. Go figure. Of course, Brown made quite sure the audience understood the implications of her response.


Elizabeth Warren’s performance on the whole was quite balanced. She seemed less nervous than last time around -- and it showed. Her best -- and perhaps most expected -- line of attack was accusing Scott Brown of signing an “extremist right-wing pledge” not to raise taxes on “millionaires and billionaires,” voting instead on numerous occasion to side with Big Oil and Corporate America. (Incidentally, Brown correctly pointed out that his opposition to the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which she indirectly referenced, would only raise enough revenue to fund the government “for one day.”) That said, I was genuinely baffled when she (once again) argued that Scott Brown voted against three jobs bills that would have brought tens of thousands of jobs to Massachusetts. The reason he opposed them, of course, is because the legislation was (a) fiscally irresponsible and (b) raised taxes on job creators during a recession. It is particularly worth noting that all three bills were summarily rejected by both political parties, according to Brown.

A few parting thoughts:

Conspicuously missing from tonight’s showdown was an in-depth discussion about women’s issues including contraception, abortion and women’s reproductive rights. This was somewhat surprising, as it was a major topic of discussion in the last debate. One issue that did come up, however, was whether or not the candidates supported the DREAM Act. As expected, Elizabeth Warren blithely asserted she supported the legislation unequivocally, whereas Scott Brown conceded he opposed it -- on the grounds that it was tantamount to “amnesty.” Although immigration reform is unlikely to impact voters’ decisions at the ballot box in November, it’s rather telling that when Brown suggested his opponent holds far-left views -- namely, she supports in-state tuitions rates and state-issued driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants -- she offered no rebuttal whatsoever. Interesting. In any case, kudos to NBC’s David Gregory, whom I thought did an excellent job moderating the debate by demanding that each candidate answer difficult and contentious questions directly and without equivocation.


In the end, as might be expected, I thought Scott Brown was the clear winner this evening. But what do you think? Was my analysis spot-on or wildly off the mark?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below…

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