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

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


More than 4,500 people packed into the Tsongas Center at UMass-Lowell to watch Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic hopeful Elizabeth Warren square off in their second of four debates on Monday night.

The debate, a joint effort between UMass-Lowell and the Boston Herald, was moderated by David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet The Press, who wasted no time in pressing the candidates on the key conflicts in the highly-contested race.

Warren's Native American Heritage

As in the first debate, Warren's claims of Native American heritage were the first topic broached when she and Brown met on stage.

When asked by Gregory if she considers herself a minority, Warren responded, "I consider myself as having a Native American background."

Brown argued that Warren began self-reporting her Native American heritage in the 1980s only to abandon the practice later in her career.

"When she says she can't change who she is, she actually did it twice."

While Brown continued his recent calls for the release of Warren's personnel records, the Democrat took issue with being badgered over stories told to her by her parents as a child.

"To try to turn this into something bigger is just wrong," Warren said.

Legal Careers

Both Brown and Warren have made their careers as lawyers, and Gregory raised the question of whether or not serving as a legal advocate for a client necessitates advocating for the policy positions of that client.

"I think attorneys have a choice," said Brown, who has criticized Warren's work representing Travelers Insurance and LTV Steel in cases where the the interests of workers went up against corporations.

"From time to time, I have taken on a client. And I have done it because there was an important legal issue at stake," Warren said.

"I would do it again. Because what I was out there doing was trying to help protect the asbestos victims."

Bipartisanship in Washington

When asked why he has not had any campaign appearances with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, choosing instead to feature President Barack Obama in one of his campaign ads, Brown said he took pride in his independence and his status as the second most bipartisan Senator in Washington.

"Of course I'm going to be proud to stand with our President," he said.

After offering the name of retiring Indiana Senator Richard Lugar as a Republican she would be willing to work across the aisle with, Warren recovered saying, "at the end of the day, the reason im in this race is not about partisanship, it's about working families."

Throughout the debate, Brown repeatedly referred to his opponent as "Professor Warren," at one point responding "I'm not a student in your classroom" when Warren attempted to interrupt him.

The Republican Senator seemed caught off guard by a question about who he thought was a model Supreme Court Justice before offering up the name of Antonin Scalia, then rattling off several other justices. Warren chose former Harvard colleague Elena Kagan.

Brown Takes Round Two

Stuart Freedman, professor and chair of the Management Department at UMass-Lowell's Manning School of Business, said Warren's ability to consistently inject sincerity into her statements during the debate helped her appear genuine and honest to voters during Monday night's debate.

Freedman took some issue with Brown's repeated use of the term "professor" as a means of distancing Warren from the electorate. However, the Republican's fallback stance of objective bipartisanship allows him to answer questions without staking out a position, allowing voters on either side of the aisle to identify with him.

"Because there were no surprises and no new ground was covered, it was the repetition of what we saw last time," said Morgan Marietta, assistant professor of Political Science at UMass-Lowell.

He noted the tremendous focus on Warren's character and pointed to Brown's professor trope, and the elitist and detached stereotype that goes along with it, as a tactic worth repeating.

"It's a fair cop," Marietta said.

"It is an effective way to communicate to the public that she's not like you."

In light of that fact, Marietta scored the debate as a win for Brown, saying that his constant attacks on Warren have put her in a position where she is responding more often than making her own claims.

"I think that being on the defensive works in a very negative way for a candidate," he said.

"She needs to attack back."

Whether or not Warren will be able to find enough ammunition to do so will be a key question in the final weeks of the race.

Students Weigh In

A number of UMass-Lowell's 16,400 students were in attendance for Monday night's debate, and several weighed in on both candidates performances afterward.

Corey Lanier, a junior Political Science and Criminal Justice major, said he liked Brown's down-to-earth answers to Gregory's sometimes aggressive questioning, and that the Senator was able to play offense more often than his opponent.

"To me it looked like she's always having to say something, always trying to make up for what Senator Brown said."

Junior Engineering student Usama Saadat came into the debate without a preference for either candidate, but left the Tsongas Center leaning more toward Warren.

"I felt that I got a more genuine sense of who Elizabeth Warren was from her than from what Scott Brown, but he definitely showed a little bit more skill in debating," he said.

However, Saadat would have liked to hear more concrete answers from both Brown and Warren, especially on issues facing college students today.

"I'm still not completely satisfied with either candidate's rhetoric," he said. "I would have preferred more discussion about how our generation is going to rebound from this recession that we're still trying to fight out of."

Jennifer Castano, a senior Criminal Justice and Homeland Security major, said she already knew she would support Warren and that Brown came off as somewhat evasive.

"He didn't really give a lot of clear answers to a lot of the questions that were asked," she said. "He was definitely trying to keep that independent view on things."

Junior Psychology student Kelcey Harper said that Warren may have missed a winning attack on Brown by not bringing up the Defense of Marriage Act when the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was mentioned during the debate.

"I feel like that's one of the civil rights issues of our generation. As a college student, that's an issue that means a lot to me personally," she said.

"I feel like Scott Brown tiptoes around the issue because he knows that most of Massachusetts supports it. I think he knows that if he were to really address the issue, that could lose voters."


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