Scott Brown, the Republican incumbent in the Massachusetts race for U.S. Senate, said he’d fight for unions and called his consumer-advocate opponent a “hired gun” for corporations, while Democrat Elizabeth Warren said Brown’s portrayal of bipartisanship didn’t square with his fundraising for Republican control of Congress.
The encounter last night, moderated by David Gregory of NBC News, was the second of four scheduled debates and ended with no obvious winner as each candidate sought to sway voters.
“I’m the daughter of a janitor who ended up as a professor at Harvard Law School and working for the president of the United States,” Warren, 63, said. “I have worked hard for 30 years to make the legal system just a little more fair for people. I think that’s a good test of character.”
The race is one of the most closely watched and expensive in the Senate, where Democrats are fighting to hold a majority. Seven of nine polls taken last month showed Warren leading.
“We’re going to have some very, very real challenges right now -- the challenges are getting our economy moving, getting our debt, our deficit, taxes, spending, jobs, national security,” said Brown, 53. Washington needs politicians “who will actually work together, and that’s what I’ve been doing and I need your vote. I can’t do this alone.”
While no clear winner emerged, both candidates improved on their performances in the first debate, said Peter Ubertaccio, director of the Martin Institute at Stonehill College in Easton.
Brown came off less aggressive, more senatorial and more clearly explained his policy positions, he said, while Warren responded better to some of Brown’s attacks.
Brown and Warren sat at a table with Gregory before a crowd of more than 4,500 at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The moderator often interrupted the candidates -- and was interrupted by them in turn, as both sought to distance themselves from one another’s characterizations.
Brown called himself a moderate and Warren a provocateur who will worsen political polarization in Washington. Warren sought to tie Brown to the “extremist” agenda of the national Republican Party, which is unpopular in Democratic-leaning Massachusetts.
On the Dream Act, which would provide a path to legal residency for some people who are in the U.S. illegally, Warren said she’d back President Barack Obama’s efforts to pass it. Brown called it “a form of back door amnesty.”
On the war in Afghanistan, Brown said he would defer to generals on the ground to determine when to bring troops home. Warren called for a speedier withdrawal and the domestic re- appropriation of the $2 billion a week spent fighting there.
Both candidates made some remarks their opponent could seek to leverage in the final weeks of the campaign.
When asked to name his model U.S. Supreme Court justice, Brown first referred to Antonin Scalia -- seen as one of the most conservative members of the court -- while rounding out his answer with three others whose alliances balanced one another out. Pressed by the moderator to name just one, he declined.
Warren named Richard Lugar as the Republican senator she could see herself working with, before it was pointed out that his 36-year tenure expires three months from now. She said she’d work with anyone to change how mortgage giants Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac operate, without naming names.
The direct sparring between the two candidates that began in the first debate, in Boston on Sept. 20, carried over in the second round. In both, Brown criticized Warren for withholding records that might show she claimed Native American ancestry in job applications, while she assailed him for supporting billionaires and opposing legislation to create new jobs.
Brown revived and tweaked a line he used in his debate with Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democrat he beat in the 2010 special election for the seat held by the late Ted Kennedy.
“Excuse me, I’m not a student in your classroom, please let me respond,” Brown said at one point to Warren, who was trying to interject. He struck a more amicable tone by adding later that he’d heard that she’s a “wonderful” professor.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure she can continue to be in that position,” he said, to laughter from the audience.
Gregory asked Warren why Massachusetts has failed thus far to elect a female U.S. Senator or governor.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Right now I’m trying to do something about that.”