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First Brown-Warren Debate: Who Came Out On Top?

Friday, September 21, 2012


Republican Senator Scott Brown came out swinging in his first debate with Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.

In response to the opening question about the importance of character, Brown jumped at the opportunity to bring up Warren's claims of Native American heritage, questioning whether those claims gave her a leg up in professional career and calling on Warren and Harvard University to release the law professor's personnel records.

"When I was growing up these were the stories I knew about my heritage," Warren said, adding that the individuals who hired her did not learn of her Native American roots until long after.

Brown's Record

Warren had a chance to fire back at Brown on the next question, which concerned how each of the candidates would create jobs in Massachusetts once they took office.

The Democrat pointed to votes cast by her Republican opponent against three consecutive jobs bills in the Senate.

"We can put people back to work, we have work that needs to be done," she said.

Brown defended his position, noting that the bills would have raised taxes by upwards of $400 billion and that Senators on both sides of the aisle opposed the measures. He also attributed issues in the Commonwealth's job market to the regulatory and tax uncertainty many employers currently face.

Both candidates debated the veracity of each other's claims. Warren said the tax numbers Brown has bandied about were made up, and Brown accused her of misrepresenting his voting record.

Women's Issues

Women's issues have been a recurring topic in the Bay State Senate race, and they came up again in Thursday night's debate, the first of four between now and Election Day.

"I've been fighting for women's rights since I was six years old," said Brown, recalling how he protected his mother from abusive stepfathers as a child.

"I'm a moderate pro-choice Republican. I always have been."

However, Warren pointed to Brown's vote against a bill that would have guaranteed women equal pay for equal work and to his co-sponsorship of the Blunt amendment, which would have allowed employers and insurance companies to opt out of offering contraceptive coverage on the basis of moral objections.

"You should stop scaring women, professor," Brown said, and he went on to equate the amendment with the late Senator Ted Kennedy's work for a "conscience exception" for Catholic and other religious organizations.

"I'm not going to pit women against their church and their faith."

"I don't think that's what Senator Kennedy fought for," Warren replied in regard to the Blunt amendment's vague language of "moral objection."

Local vs. National

The topic of climate change, which both candidates said was an important issue to address, provided Warren with an opening to link the local Massachusetts race to the national political stakes this year.

"This race really may be for the control of the Senate," she said, adding that if the GOP wins a majority, Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe, who believes global warming is a hoax, would be in a position to affect the country's environmental policy.

"I just don't understand how we could go in that direction."

Brown pushed back against the Democrat's attempt to nationalize the race and reiterated his stance as an independent voice and the second-most bipartisan Senator in Washington.

"You're not running against Inhofe, you're running against me," he said.

Experts Weigh In

Robert Boatright, a professor of Political Science at Clark University, called the hour-long debate a narrow win for Warren.

"I think Brown likely scored a few points here but I think that the kitchen sink approach Brown used is likely to turn off more voters than it attracts," he said.

Aside from the Native American opening salvo, Brown made several other personal jabs at Warren, which may have been one too many.

"One personal attack might have been effective, but four or five of them make it look like Brown is desperate and is just grasping for anything that works," Boatright said.

Brown found success in the type of personal anecdotes that have built up his image as an easy-going everyman, while Warren still struggled in her attempts to connect with ordinary voters on a personal level.

"I think that if you ask them a few days from now what they remember, viewers are more likely to remember Warren’s broader claims about Brown and his voting record than they are to remember any of Brown’s various smaller allegations," Boatright said.

"Warren ultimately sounded like a more serious candidate." 


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