LOWELL, Massachusetts — Make no mistake. Elizabeth Warren won this debate, as she and Senator Scott Brown squared off in their second debate on Monday night in the race for U.S. Senate. Tonight's proceedings should give Warren a boost in the polls, especially after Brown committed the amazing mistake of naming Antonin Scalia as his model Supreme Court justice. The debate was moderated by David Gregory, host of Meet the Press, who asked the audience before the debate to hold their applause for the end, but to no avail.
Warren and Brown traded barbs for 55 minutes. Warren slammed Brown for his opposition to the DREAM Act, and for his vote against extending the Bush tax cuts for all but the top 2% of income earners, with Warren saying the senator was holding Americans hostage to secure tax breaks the wealthiest Americans. Brown, meanwhile, was able to come out guns blazing on Warren's alleged Native American heritage, as Gregory's first question of the night was posited to Warren about that issue. Brown has been unrelenting in his position that Warren's questionable claims about her ancestry speak to her a character -- a narrative the Brown campaign has been pressing. Brown also hit Warren for her work as a lawyer for Traveler's insurance, which successfully fought off a class action lawsuit by asbestos victims while they were a client of Warren's. The senator said that the lawsuit showed that Warren is not the fighter for the middle class she says she is.
Brown chided Warren at one point when his challenger tried to interrupt him. "Excuse me, I’m not a student in your classroom," getting applause from his supporters in the audience, and boos from Warren's.
Fifty minutes into the 55 minute debate, Brown was asked by Gregory who his "model" Supreme Court justice is, to which he answered, "Justice [Antonin] Scalia" — the notoriously conservative judge — prompting audible gasps and boos from the audience (and the press room). Realizing his blunder, Brown went on to name Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, and Sonia Sotomayor, who is one of the court's more liberal judges. Brown has tried to portray himself as a bipartisan senator who reaches across the aisle, but his naming of Scalia will be a problem for him going forward.
"That was shocking," Congressman Barney Frank told PolicyMic about Brown's first choice. Scalia, he said, is "the most right-wing vicious, homophobic guy, and then [Brown] realized that was a problem, and he tried to cover it up."
Brown said in this debate, as he did in the first, that he is one of the most bipartisan senators, and has been able to work with Democrats to troubleshoot legislative gridlock. At one point, Gregory pointed out that one Brown ad shows him with president Obama, but not with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who Brown has endorsed. The audience applauded Gregory's question, which Brown used to pivot to say, "When the president does something well I praise him."
“I have a history of working across the aisle,” Brown said. “I take great pride in that independence.”
8:31pm: After the debate, Warren answers my question on her thoughts on Scott Brown choosing Antonin Scalia as his model Supreme Court justice. (It actually would've been my preference to ask Brown about it, but sadly I didn't have the opportunity.)
8:26pm: Just got back from the post-debate press conference. Video forthcoming.
7:56pm: Standard closing remarks. Debate over. More coming soon.
7:54pm: Gregory asks them whether the Red Sox should keep manager Bobby Valentine for another year. Warren says to give him another year. Brown dodges the question by saying the Red Sox need to figure it out.
7:54pm: Gregory makes the candidate say what they like about each other. Warren says Brown has a nice family and he voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. Brown says Warren is a good professor.
7:53pm: Gregory asks Warren why Massachusetts hasn't elected a female governor or senator. Warren says, "I don't know" and leaves it at that. Audience laughs.
7:51pm: Gregory asks Brown: Who's your model Supreme Court Justice? Names Antonin Scalia first! HUGE BLUNDER. Tries to get out of it by then naming Kennedy, Roberts, and....Sotomayor! Warren says Elena Kagan, her former boss.
7:50pm: Brown says he'll rely on the generals on the ground and Obama to decide when the US should leave Afghanistan.
7:49pm: Warren says US needs to get out of Afghanistan, perhaps even sooner than President Obama plans to withdraw them.
7:48pm: Brown reiterates his opposition for the DREAM Act, which he helped block with fellow Republicans in December 2010. Calls it "backdoor amnesty."
7:46pm: Warren wants to respond, but Gregory cuts her off, saying she's had a chance. Brown supporters applaud.
7:45pm: Brown cites is presence at a signing ceremony with president Obama at a veterans jobs bill ceremony.
7:44pm: Brown cites the alleged lack of certainty when it comes to regulations and tax policy, a preferred line of Republicans across the country.
7:42pm: Warren says, "Massachusetts is on the cutting edge" when it comes to new and clean energy. But the state needs a good federal partner willing to fight for Massachusetts.
7:40pm: UMass Lowell student asks the candidates what the candidates would do to help her find a job as a graduating senior. It's been the smartest question all night.
7:36pm: Break time!
7:33pm: Warren hits Brown for voting against ending oil subsidies, and then on voting against extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the bottom 98% of income earners.
7:32pm: Warren says Brown has signed onto "an extremist right-wing pledge" to never raise taxes on anyone. Audience applauds. Warren hits Brown for not supporting the so-called "Buffett rule."
7:29pm: Gregory asking about Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission, which recommended budget cuts and tax increases. Brown notes Harry Reid's unwillingness to get behind the plan and bring it to a vote on the senate floor. Says we shouldn't be raising taxes.
7:28pm: Warren tries to interrupt Brown. He says, "Excuse me, I'm not a student in your classroom." Audience applauds.
7:26pm: Warren: Brown talks about being bipartisan, but when he goes around the country telling a completely different story at fundraisers. Applause again, despite Gregory's pre-date admonition against it. Warren hammers Brown for voted against several jobs bills.
7:25pm: Brown criticizes Warren for being unable to name a single senator she'd be able to work with other than Richard Lugar, who is actually retiring at the end of his term in January. His response is met with applause.
7:22pm: Brown references Warren's "blood and teeth in the street" remark when she was talking about her approach to trying to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Here's what she said:
"My first choice is a strong consumer agency. My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor."
7:20pm: Gregory points out that some of Brown's ads show him with Obama, but not with Romney. Gregory suggests Brown is running away from Romney. Audience gives a brief applause. Brown: "When the president does something well, I praise him."
7:20pm: Gregory asked Brown about his support of Mitt Romney, which is a no-no here. Brown claims he's voted with his party about 50% of the time, and the Democratic Party about 50% of the time.
7:19pm: Warren points out, "Unions have endorsed me." The unions in Massachusetts, by and large, are on the side of Warren.
7:16pm: Brown again begins a sentence with, "With all due respect," and calls Warren's defense of her work for traveler's as "laughable to think she was working for the victims" in trying to set up a trust to pay out victims. Brown says he's the only person in the race siding with unions. Yes, a Republican just said that.
7:15pm: Warren is responding to the charge that she prevented asbestos victims from collecting on a class action lawsuit when she did legal work for Traveler's insurance.
7:13pm: Gregory is harping on legal ethics right now. Brown says that attorneys have a choice about whether to represents clients or not.
7:11pm: Gregory talks about both of their histories as attorneys. Brown has never had to disclose what kinds of work he did for his clients. Brown says, "With all due respect" (one of his favorite lines, and by which he means, "With no respect whatsoever....") he doesn't have to release his list of clients.
7:10pm: Reporter behind me: "These are stupid questions."
7:09pm: Brown: I've made mistakes, and I will mistakes.
7:08pm: Gregory now brings up Brown's claim that he's met with kings and queens. Brown pivots. "The number one thing we need to focus on is jobs and the economy.
7:06pm: Brown says Warren "misled the voters" about her Native American heritage. We have now been talking about this for seven minutes.
7:05pm: "Character is about how you live your life," says Warren; cites her upbringing as a janitor's daughter becoming a Harvard professor.
7:04pm: Brown says that Warren benefitted from listing herself as a Native American in the Harvard faculty directory.
7:03pm: Gregory asks if Warren considers herself a minority. She doesn't say yes or no, but reaffirms that she believes that she is part Native American.
7:00pm: Gregory wants to start with her Native American heritage. Someday, this election will hinge on actual issues.
6:59pm: Forty-five second warning.
6:54pm: We have lost the audio feed here in the arena. Five minutes to go. This could be a problem.
6:51pm: Candidates have come out.
6:49pm: Gregory has asked the Brown supporters to cheer for their candidate, and the Warren supporter to cheers for theirs. Warren's ovation was at least twice as loud. Gregory is asking that the audience to hold their applause during the debate to respect the "integrity" of the candidates.
6:48pm: UMass Lowell Chancellor and former U.S. Congressman from Lowell, Marty Meehan is currently introducing David Gregory as the moderator.
6:40pm: Seats starting to fill up:
Hey, cut me some slack. It's my camera-phone.
6:38pm: There is presidential debate-esque feel to this crowd at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, which is sold out tonight. Capacity: 5,700.
This debate comes on the heels of a slew of recent polls, most of which indicate Warren leading the incumbent Brown. On Monday morning, WBUR released a poll showing Warren ahead by a tally of 46% to 44% among likely voters. That came one day after The Boston Globe released a survey showing Warren ahead by five points among likely voters. According to that poll, both Brown and Warren have a favorability rating of 53% among likely voters. When it comes to independents, Brown’s favorability is 67%, compared to Warren’s 43%. However, one serious disadvantage Brown has is the presence of Mitt Romney on this year’s ballot. The former Massachusetts governor will not only lose his home state, but he has an extremely low favorability rating of 33% among likely Massachusetts voters, while 60% view him unfavorably. That is in stark contrast to Barack Obama, who enjoys a favorability rating of 63%.
During the campaign, Brown has emphasized that he is a bipartisan legislator who is willing to work with Democrats. Such rhetoric is necessary in this liberal state, which in 2010 elected Brown senator in a special election. It is the first time the Bay State elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since Edward Brooke was reelected to the position in 1972, when Massachusetts was the only state not carried by Republican President Richard Nixon. Warren, meanwhile, has emphasized the need to revitalize the middle class, which she says has been done a disservice by Brown because he is beholden to powerful financial interests — particularly the financial sector, which Warren has said needs to be reined in.
Tonight's debate is sure to feature no shortage of testy exchanges, as the race has become increasingly hostile in recent weeks, thanks to wrangling over Warren's previous claim to Cherokee ancestry, which Brown has used to attack her repeatedly both in campaign ads and in his opening remarks during the first debate
Full video of the first debate between Brown and Warren, moderated by WBZ-TV's Jon Keller: