Massachusetts’ Senate candidates Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown put their best foot forward for a Monday night debate before a sold out crowd of 5,700 in UMass Lowell’s Tsongas arena. With Warren ahead by a mere four points in the latest poll reported by WBUR, Brown earnestly defended his reputation as one of the few independents in Washington, hoping to woo undecided Massachusetts voters. Ultimately, however, Brown’s independence came across as indecision and avoidance, which may push him lower in the polls this week.
After getting through the obligatory and painful Cherokee gate question, which went out of fashion once Brown’s supporters adopted the so-called “tomahawk chop” and “war whoop” as their rally tactic, David Gregory mediated a fast paced and often terse meeting between the Harvard Law professor and "everyman" incumbent. Brown came down hard on Warren for having worked in corporate law on what he called anti-union cases, but Warren rebuffed his argument, saying that his charges were "deliberately dishonest" and reminding the crowd that nearly all Massachusetts unions endorse her.
Warren got big cheers for her zinger against Brown’s campaign tactics, pointing out that though he claimed to focus on bringing a bipartisan approach to policy-making, "He’s not saying the same thing when he goes around the country raising money for this senate campaign … he’s saying he can block President Obama’s agenda." In a state where Romney is polling at a precipitously low 32%, it certainly doesn't hurt Warren to paint Brown as a Romney-esque panderer to moneyed Republicans.
Though Brown saved face with his predictably conservative responses to questions about taxes and job creation, which today resonate even in an overwhelmingly blue state such as Massachusetts, the crowd was once against stirred by Warren's support of the speedy withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, as well as immigration reform and the passing of the Dream Act. Brown, on the other hand, seemed almost nervous to supply his answer about immigration, posed by a Dominican UMass student who became a U.S. citizen at age 16. "Yes, I don't support [the Dream Act], said Brown, "it's like backdoor amnesty." He was met with possibly the most resounding chorus of boos of the night.
Brown's biggest follies came at the end of the night. First, asked by Gregory to name his favorite Supreme Court Justice, Brown said Antonin Scalia, by far the most conservative judge on the bench. Realizing his mistake, he then rattled off Kennedy, Roberts, and Sotomayor, saying that "the beauty of being independent is I don't need to pick one." Gregory then threw the pair a softball, asking if they thought the woeful Boston Red Sox's General Manager, Bobby Valentine, should be fired. Warren took a stance, albeit awkwardly, and said she thought he deserved another try — a good answer in this political climate. Brown, however, in keeping with the trend of the night, could not commit. One would think a Massachusetts man would know better than to avoid a question about the Red Sox.