The third Brown-Warren debate: Four takeaways

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Democrat Elizabeth Warren squared off Wednesday night in their third of four debates – a showdown which was more notable for what it didn’t contain (a discussion of Warren’s heritage, many heated exchanges, and a bounty of one-liners) than anything else. Here is our list of the four biggest takeaways from the debate in Springfield, which was sponsored by a Massachusetts media consortium:

A more subdued debate: While the first two debates were filled with heated exchanges and memorable one-liners, this one felt a bit more restrained. There was a lot more discussion about specific policy issues – how to address unemployment, the federal health care law, where to make spending cuts – and fewer personal attacks, compared to the first two rounds. Sure, there were a few lines that prompted applause and boos this time around (including when Brown told Warren to “put down the hammer”), but not nearly as many as the previous two showdowns.

(Elise Amendola/AP)

(A Bellwether Senate Clash in Massachusetts)

No discussion of Warren’s claim to Native American heritage: In the first two debates, it wasn’t long before the candidates sparred over Warren’s heritage. This time, it didn’t come up. Not once. The moderator didn't raise the issue, and neither did Brown. The senator has released two ads hitting Warren over her heritage claim, but the issue appears to be fading (at least temporarily) as a focal point in the campaign.

Warren goes national, Brown goes local: Warren mentioned Mitt Romney and Senate Republicans’ quest for the majority more than in previous meetings. She said “Roe v. Wade may hang in the balance” and characterized Brown’s attacks on health care as being out of the “same playbook that Mitt Romney used a week ago tonight. It was wrong then, it is wrong tonight.” Trying to nationalize the race is a smart play for Warren, and cuts against Brown’s desire to pitch himself as an independent politician.

Brown mentioned his accomplishments on health care and education in the state Senate, name-checked local areas, underscored his Massachusetts roots, and noted his endorsement from the former Democratic mayor of Springfield. “I have been working hard since my days as an assessor and a selectman,” he said. Brown’s likability stems in large part from his image as a normal guy from Massachusetts. He made a concerted effort to underscore that pitch Wednesday night.

Warren on offense: It just felt like Warren was on offense more than Brown was in this debate. She highlighted specific pieces of legislation the senator voted on in the upper chamber, and specific issues on which she differs with him. Indeed, Brown was equally specific in his rebuttal, but the entire hour felt more like a referendum on Brown’s record than it did a comparison between the two candidates. 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



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Sean Sullivan · October 10, 2012

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