Not since Bill Weld challenged John Kerry in 1996 has a U.S. Senate race in the Bay State garnered more attention than that between incumbent Senator Scott Brown and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren.
A fresh poll this weekend from The Boston Globe has Warren leading by a 43%-38% spread. Six of the last eight Brown/Warren polls show a slim lead for Prof. Warren though the numbers are within the margin of error making for a statistical stalemate. With President Obama leading former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney 57%-30% in Massachusetts, the top-down ticket effect could mean the end of Senator Brown’s short sojourn to Washington as the junior senator.
Tonight marks the second debate in this too-close-to-call battle between the second most bipartisan U.S. senator in 2011 and the famed consumer protection advocate. Pundits generally thought the first debate a tie. In the two weeks since, the Brown campaign has ramped up its attacks of Warren’s purported Native American ancestry and whether she used it for advancement in her academic career. Brown’s opening statement in the initial debate centered on the controversy while his television ads have sought to make the case that Warren has a character issue. Further stoking passions this week, Brown staffers and campaign aides were videotaped making “tomahawk chop” gestures and “war whoops,” both stereotypes of Native Americans that have been called racist by the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Senator Brown responded on Thursday by saying, “Would I call it racist? I’d call it immature and unacceptable. I don’t accept that type of behavior and I’ve told them very clearly if it happens again they’ll be fired.”
As the hours draw nearer this second debate both campaigns are seeking to gain an edge. For Brown, his everyman persona and bipartisan reputation are on the line. Unlike his historic victory in 2010, he now must contend with his voting record. Warren must continue to steer the conversation towards the issues and away from the controversy. Her focus need be on reaching out to those 18% of voters who remain undecided on the race. With the unsavory antics of the Brown team this week, it may just be the opportunity Warren needs to exhibit her critique of Brown’s record and articulate what her brand of legislating will bring. Brown must be prepared to defend his record with more detail and thread a narrative of how his continuing to represent the citizens of Massachusetts in Washington will serve them and the nation best.
November promises to be an historic day for voters in Massachusetts, as they will either choose to extend into further Republican incumbency the seat once held by JFK and EMK or elect the first female U.S. senator in the history of the Commonwealth. Neither campaign lacks for funding or a powerful GOTV apparatus. With a race this close and such attention being paid to it, the remaining three debates are crucial to convincing undecided voters and Brown-leaning democrats which lever to pull or which box to mark. Politics has long been a favorite sport in Massachusetts and this match promises a fight till the end.