Thursday, September 20, 2012

Brown v. Warren: The First Debate

Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown and his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren, faced off in their first televised debate of the general election season.

The debate began with an exchange about character, which included Brown bringing up the claim that Warren falsely identified herself as a Native American in order to advance her career.  It then moved on to a discussion of tax policies, with Warren trying to suggest that Brown privileged tax-cuts for the wealthiest over tax-cuts for everyone else---an allegation that Brown strenuously denied.  Later topics included abortion, bipartisanship, energy, and religious freedom.

Brown looked a little uneven at the beginning of this debate, but he picked up steam by the second half.  An easy, relaxed delivery was an asset for Brown in early 2010.  Compared to Warren's rather steady delivery, Brown looked a bit flustered at times in the early part of the debate.

Warren, however, kept returning to the same few themes again and again.  This debate revealed an inversion of the dynamic that prevailed in 2010.  Then, Brown wanted to nationalize the election, reminding voters that he could be the 41st vote to stop some of President Obama's agenda or at least subject this agenda to bipartisan consensus.  Now, Warren is trying to attach Brown to national Republicans, stressing that a Brown victory in Massachusetts could help flip control of the Senate to Republicans.  Massachusetts voters might have been skeptical about giving Obama a blank check in 2010, but many of them appear inclined to vote for him in November.

Still, Brown can use a bipartisan appeal to draw some potential Obama voters away from Warren.  Even many of the Democratic voters in Massachusetts aren't exactly thrilled with the president's record, especially its economic disappointments.  Brown might be able to convince voters that Elizabeth Warren would be just another faithful vote for Obama when the nation really needs more bipartisan debate and openness to new solutions.

Brown might also find it helpful to focus more on trade reform and banking reform.  Mitt Romney has edged in both of these directions, and these issues seem like a territory that Brown could use to change the landscape of the policy debate.

I don't think this debate was a game-changer, but it does remind voters and pundits alike that this race could be close all the way down the wire.

UPDATE: Bill Jacobson agrees that no "knockout blow" was given and rightly notes Brown's many astute appeals to union members.

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