Brown vs Warren Debate: Who Won the Mass Senate Debate


On Thursday night, Senator Scott Brown (R) and Professor Elizabeth Warren (D) squared off in the first of four debates at WBZ studios in Boston. It was moderated by WBZ-TV political reporter Jon Keller, whose pedestrian political insights made him a less-than-ideal inquisitor for this highly anticipated occasion. But I digress. 

The debate began with Keller asking about character in U.S. senators. Brown went first and wasted no time directly going after Warren for claiming on her Harvard job application that she was part Cherokee Native American. Warren is (supposedly) part Cherokee, and she said that she had been brought up to believe that to be the case. It was almost as if the two candidates and the moderator (implicitly) agreed to get this bullshit out of the way before moving onto real issues. Nonetheless, the prologue left a sour taste in this observer's mouth. 

Both candidates seemed to spend an equal amount of time on offense and defense. On the economy and jobs, Brown repeatedly insisted that Warren would raise taxes, which is true in so far as she would have allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire for individuals making more than $250,000 annually. Warren slammed Brown for his votes against bills that would've allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire for these wealthier Americans, but keep them for everyone else. She accused Brown of holding the middle class "hostage" in order to secure tax breaks for the rich.

On women's issues, Brown had a difficult time defending his record, especially in light of his co-sponsorship of a measure (the failed Blunt amendment) that would've allowed employers to cite a vague "moral objection" as a reason for refusing to provide contraception coverage on the health care plans they provide to employees. During this segment, Brown declared himself a pro-choice moderate Republican, which is really the only kind of Republican that can win office in this state. Warren has been endorsed by the pro-choice women's group Emily's List. 

On foreign policy, Brown hit Warren for her comment months ago that the U.S. needs a "nuanced" approach when it comes to dealing with Iran, which, truth be told, is more sensible than an Iraq-esque, invade-first-and-ask-questions-later approach. Both candidates pledged strong support for Israel. Brown said the U.S. must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Foreign policy will be Brown's strong suit in this race, which is good news for Warren since, barring some unforseen major international development between now and November, her strength is economic issues and consumer protection. She will need to lay out a clear vision on economic policy in subsequent debates. Although Warren hit Brown on protecting subsidies for big oil companies, she surprisingly didn't talk much about Brown's Wall Street backers. 

Thursday's debate came less than 24 hours after the release of a new UMass Lowell/Boston Herald poll indicating that Brown leads Warren among registered Massachusetts voters 50% to 44%, and among likely voters 49% to 45%. The survey snapped a four-poll win streak for Warren, who appeared to be benefiting from her speech at the Democratic National Convention. Successive polls after the convention showed Warren ahead by six, two, four, and five points. Given that the latest poll has a margin of error of 5.3%, the race is nonetheless a statistical dead heat. 

8:15pm: I still don't know what to make of Brown calling Warren the "father" of Occupy Wall Street. Does he know something we don't about Elizabeth Warren? 

8:11pm: One thing Brown may want to work on is taking criticism from opponents without appearing too flustered. Brown has a habit of taking a jab against his record and internalizing it as if it were a personal attack. Of course, this (quasi-)anger may play well with some voters. 

8:09pm: There was no clear winner tonight. However, if Brown is truly ahead by six points as the latest poll indicates, nothing happened tonight that would change that equation very much. 

8:06pm: Brown did fairly well for a guy who for a few moments this afternoon, appeared as if he wasn't going to catch his flight to Boston from Washington, D.C.

8:04pm: This debate was somewhat like Brown's debates with Coakley in 2010. Warren was somewhat more passionate than the Attorney General, but not by much. I feel as if there's a tendency among some women in politics to avoid sounding fiery, lest they be perceived by some as catty, which is too bad. 

7:59pm: Maybe it was the total lack of a live in-studio audience, but that debate didn't live up to the hype at all. People will say Brown won this debate because he was louder and more aggressive. He was also more indignant, which is his specialty. 

7:57pm: It's over. I thought this would go to at least 8:10pm. 

7:56pm: Brown just called Warren "the father of the radical Occupy movement." Did he just call her a transvestite? 

7:55pm: Warren: If the GOP takes the senate, climate change-denying Jim Inhofe (R) would chair the chief senate committee on the environment. That's not going to resonate a whole lot with Massachusetts voters. 

7:52pm: Brown doesn't hesitate to say he believes climate change is real and is man-made. You read that right. A non-climate change-denying Republican: that's like the political version of Bigfoot. 

7:51pm: Brown slamming Warren for being pro-Big Asbestos. 

7:50pm: Scott Brown sounds like he has genuine contempt for Elizabeth Warren. 

7:49pm: For no reason, The Truck:

7:48pm: Warren plays up her modest background and how she lived the "American Dream," which for many these days is the American Nightmare. 

7:44pm: Brown hits Warren on her and her husband's salaries as academics in discussion on high costs of higher education. Fair or foul? 

7:42pm: Both candidates falling all over themselves to come off as fervently pro-Israel. 

7:40pm: Brown says we can't have a nuanced approach to foreign policy, specifically on Iran. 

7:38pm: Brown got put the ringer on women's issues. Not a good segment for him. 

7:34pm: The ill-fated Blunt amendment makes an appearance courtesy of Warren. Brown co-sponsored the amendment that would've allowed employers to invoke a conscience exemption to refuse to provide contraceptives on health insurance plans. 

7:33pm: Warren: Brown has voted against equal pay for equal work. 

7:32pm: Brown: I'm a moderate pro-choice Republican.

7:31pm: Brown to Warren on not voting to confirm Elena Kagan: "I'm sorry I didn't vote for your boss." Haha. 

7:30pm: Social issues time. Warren says she'd never vote for a Supreme Court nominee who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

7:27pm: First half is over. So far, this debate is reminiscent of Brown's debates against Coakley in the special election in 2010. That's not a good thing for Warren. 

7:24pm: Warren says she's out there for working families and small businesses. 

7:23pm: Brown keeps defending his no votes by saying they were bipartisan. Not sure about that. Even still, his defense seems to be, "But everyone else did it."

7:21pm: Brown references his truck!

7:21pm: Brown hits Warren on her reluctance to voluntarily pay more taxes. 

7:20pm: Warren seems subdued. 

7:19pm: Brown: "We have the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world." Yes, but there are plenty of breaks for those that avail themselves of those breaks. Plus, we have no value-added tax like most industrialized countries do. 

7:18pm: Brown coins a new term: "taxmageddon!"

7:17pm: Warren is really hammering Brown on his refusal to vote for a bill that would've let the Bush tax cuts expire for the top 2% but keep them for the other 98%. Brown is not doing a good job of defending his vote on this, namely because it's indefensible. 

7:16pm: Brown seems like he's hurrying his responses, as if somewhat flustered, or manic. Take your pick.  

7:14pm: Candidates fighting over numbers now.  

7:12pm: Brown busts out the "lack of certainty" line as an explanation as to why businesses aren't hiring. 

7:11pm: Warren name drops "Richard from Leominster." I wonder if he knows Joe the Plumber. 

7:10pm: Brown says the jobs bills would've raised taxes $450 billion.

7:08pm: Warren hits Brown on his "no" vote on three jobs bills. You knew that was coming. 

7:07pm: Hey, We're onto the economy!

7:06pm: Right now we're talking about Elizabeth Warren's Harvard personnel records. For real. Maybe a birth certificate is in order. How about an background check?

7:03pm: What a joke that this debate begins with a discourse on Warren's ethnic background. A disgrace, in fact. There are real issues to be discussed, and this isn't one of them. Jon Keller goes straight for faux issues right out of the gate. 

7:02pm: Brown ALREADY goes after Warren for the Cherokee claim! That took about 11 seconds. Amazing!

7:01pm: Tonight's moderator is the incredibly mediocre Jon Keller.

7:00pm: Game time.

6:58pm: Quick snapshot of where the candidates' money is coming from:

6:46pm: This debate will be aired and live-streamed on C-SPAN3 beginning at 7pm. 

6:28pm: The Brown-Warren race is already the most expensive in Massachusetts history. It is also one of the most expensive congressional races in the country, if not the most expensive, and has been closely watched on both the state and national level. Additionally, it may be the most frequently polled, as this listing of surveys from Real Clear Politcs illustrates. 

5:44pm: Earlier today on the Senate floor, Reid made a not-so subtle jab at the junior senator from Massachusetts:

“Madam president, I’m so sorry. We have no more votes today,” Reid said. “No more votes today. It’s obvious to me what’s going on. I’ve been to a few of these rodeos. It is obvious there is a big stall taking place. One of the senators who doesn’t want to debate tonight won’t be in a debate. While he can’t use the Senate as an excuse, there will be no more votes today.”

Ouch... I haven't seen a Massachusetts senator beaten that badly on the senate floor since Preston Brooks clubbed Charles Sumner with his cane!

4:11pm: In a rather odd episode ahead of tonight's debate, Brown raised the possibility of missing tonight's debate because he said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had allegedly scheduled some late votes on the Senate floor. The Boston Globe reports Reid as saying,

“We have no more votes today. No more votes today. It’s obvious to me what’s going on. I’ve been to a few of these rodeos. It is obvious there is a big stall taking place. One of the senators who had a debate tonight doesn’t want to debate. Well, he can’t use the Senate as an excuse. There will be no more votes today.”

And the debate hasn't even started yet!

* * *

During the 2010 special election campaign, Brown did well during his debates with Democratic opponent and Attorney General Martha Coakley. Whereas Coakley's rhetorical style was more appropriate for instructional videos on how to assemble furniture, Brown was able to mask his mediocre grasp of substantive policy issues with impassioned deliveries — the most notable of which was his now-famous remark about the seat he now occupies: 

Professor Warren will have to avoid sounding like someone with her title, which she has already demonstrated she can do at the DNC earlier this month.

PolicyMic will be live-blogging the debate and providing live updates starting around 6:45pm.