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Wed October 10, 2012
Brown vs. Warren, Round Three: A Good Night for the Professor
The U.S. Senate debate that took place Oct. 10 in Springfield bore a striking resemblance to the presidential debate that took place the week before. Elizabeth Warren was energetic, aggressive, and dictated the terms from the outset — just like Mitt Romney. And Scott Brown seemed simultaneously lethargic and peevish — much like Barack Obama. (Brown wasn't quite as bad as Obama, who seemed genuinely not to want his current job. But for much of the evening, he was pretty close.)
One exchange in particular defined the night.
Touting his record on women's issues, Scott Brown identified himself as pro-choice, referenced his wife and daughters, and said (as he had in the first debate) that he'd been fighting for women since he was six — a reference to his defense of his mother from an abusive boyfriend at that tender age. Warren responded, in essence: I believe Scott Brown is a good father and a good husband. But every time he's had a chance to cast a single, defining vote on issues involving women — whether it's abortion rights or equal pay — he's voted the wrong way. My paraphrased recap really doesn't do justice to the power of Warren's riposte; after she delivered it, Brown looked both disoriented and demoralized.
Also noteworthy: by my count, it took Brown more than half an hour to tout his own record of bipartisanship, which is far and away his greatest political asset. He came back to that theme in his closing statement, noting that he actually votes across the aisle far more than Dick Lugar — whom Warren had identified, in the previous debate, as a Republican senator she'd be able to work well with. Taken in isolation, Brown's Lugar line was a winner. But it should have been delivered far, far earlier.
By the same token, when Brown jabbed at Warren's past litigation for some questionable clients early on, Warren simply brushed Brown's attacks away. In the past few weeks, Warren has struggled mightily to explain, in terms comprehensible to ordinary people, why her work for Traveler's Insurance and LTV Steel was morally sound. I had wondered if she'd fare better tonight. As it turned out, she didn't have to, because Brown simply couldn't make the subject stick.
All in all, Brown's performance tonight was a lot more like the first debate (during which he came across as aggressive and snide) than it was the second (where he was almost as in control of the action as Warren was tonight). Warren, meanwhile, was the strongest we've seen her. Maybe — to paraphrase the president — Brown simply had a bad night. But the outcome certainly raises the stakes heading into the last debate at WGBH later this month.
Finally, three cheers for moderator Jim Madigan, of WGBY, who did an absolutely stellar job despite an occasionally boorish crowd. His questions were substantive across the board, and elicited some truly enlightening exchanges — including a back-and-forth on spending and taxes that brought the fiscal differences between Warren and Brown to the fore. Madigan also ran the sort of tight ship everyone wished Jim Lehrer had run last week, keeping the conversation moving and cutting off the candidates politely but firmly when they'd reached their allotted time limit. Toward the end of the debate, I tweeted that it was time to get Madigan a slot on an upcoming presidential debate. I wasn't kidding — and judging from the response, I'm not the only one who feels that way.
Readers: What'd you see during the debate?
BOSTON PUBLIC RADIO