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US Senate Debate: Candidates Wrangle over Character and Partisanship

Sen. Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren faced off in Lowell for round two of their debates.

With polls showing a neck-and-neck race for Massachusetts' U.S. Senate seat, Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren came with claws sharpened to their second debate Monday night at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell. 

The debate, moderated by NBC's David Gregory, lasted about an hour.

Even with its scattered punches and zings, the debate may not be a game changer. It was generally predictable and lacking much about specific national issues, and Gregory spent most of the time asking about character attacks.

Cherokee Song

Gregory started the debate with the glaring question about Warren's heritage. Warren claims to have Native American ancestry, but proof of that ancestry has not been presented. This has created a firestorm for the professor.

"From the day I was born until my other died, she told me about who I am, who we are, who my brothers are," Warren said. "I have never used the information about our Native American heritage to get any benefit... I consider myself as having a Native American background. That's what I said, and that's who I am."

Brown has attacked Warren as dishonest for the heritage issue in his latest round of TV ads. Recently, Brown staffers showed up at a Warren rally yelling Native American war chants, which generated anger from the Cherokee Nation and which was condemned by Brown himself.

But at the debate, Brown said the issue was about Warren's integrity and that Warren had "failed the test" of her integrity by changing her story about who knew about her heritage classification and when.

When asked, Brown couldn't produce any evidence that Warren has received any benefit for Native American heritage, but he called on her to be more open and release her personnel record from Harvard.

Kings and Queens

Warren wasn't the only one on defense.

Gregory brought up the infamous incident in which Brown mentioned on a radio show that he'd had "meetings with kings and queens." He didn't name which kings and queens and his staff later said he misspoke, but it turns out Brown had made this claim on multiple occasions before.

Brown denied exaggerating and stood by his point, if not his actual statements. He said he was listening to leaders around the world discuss the economy and was presenting a "scenario" of discussion.

"I never met the poorest farmer either, but it's about presenting a scenario where we can point out that there are serious issues affecting our jobs and the economy."

On the Record

Warren also pressed Brown to produce a list of his legal clients. And that opened a whole different can of worms involving Warren, asbestos and coal.

Brown cornered Warren on her work with Travelers Insurance in 2009. Travelers Insurance enlisted Warren in an agreement with victims in order to protect itself from future claims. Brown says that work goes against Warren's claims of being an advocate against corporate abuse.

But Warren insists her work was to make sure the victims were given what they were owed and that she helped oversee a settlement of hundreds of billions of dollars to go to the victims.

"For Sen. Brown to say that my work hurt asbestos victims is just simply not only untrue, it is exactly the wrong direction," Warren asserted. "The asbestos victims have stood up and said, 'Sen. Brown is wrong and he has crossed the line.'"

Brown also brought up a 1995 case in which Warren, a bankruptcy attorney at the time, represented LTV Steel as they were coming out of bankruptcy and petitioning not to pay into a fund for workers' benefits.


In another familiar theme, Brown discussed his bipartisan record in the Senate.

"I don't work for anybody, I don't work for President Obama or Mitt Romney or Sen. McConnell," Brown said. "I work for the people of Massachusetts."

Brown went on to talk about various votes he has cast in favor of Democratic bills in the Senate. Brown has campaigned all along on the idea of independence, and several prominent Democrats have come out in support of him. He even said he told Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that he is disgusted with what's going on in his party.

When asked about her record of bipartisanship, Warren cited a bipartisan commission she was on after the financial collapse of 2008 to address issues that had caused the collapse. She also said she would work with Republicans on reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Awkward and Funny

The debate also had its humorous, awkward and downright odd moments:

  • In an embarrassing moment for Warren, when asked to name one Republican senator she could work with, Warren named Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana. As it turns out, Lugar is retiring and won't be there next year.
  • As Warren was hammering away at votes Brown has cast against various jobs bills, transportation bills and unemployment extension, Brown jumped in, apparently agitated, and said, "Excuse me, I'm not a student in your classroom, please let me respond, OK?"
  • When asked to name a Supreme Court justice he admired, Brown named conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and much of the crowd booed.
  • When asked why she thinks Massachusetts has never elected a female governor or senator, Warren said, "I don't know... Well right now I'm trying to do something about that."
  • Brown said he thinks Sen. John Kerry would be a good Secretary of State. Could this be a hint of a replacement for Hillary Clinton when she leaves in January if President Obama is reelected?
  • Gregory asked Brown why he has not made appearances with Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney and implied Brown was  distancing himself from Romney in order to appeal to Massachusetts voters (polls suggest Romney has very little support in the Bay State).
  • The award for best zinger of the night would perhaps go to Brown. When asked what he admires about Warren, Brown said, "She's a very hard working accomplished professor... So I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure she can continue to be in that position."

The Boston Herald has the complete video of the debate.

Howard Moon October 02, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Apparently it only matters as for Warren. The fact that Brownie has yet to take credit for being the largest receiver of lobbyist cash in history doesn't mater or his failure to admit that he is a Wall St. *hore. He refuses to defend his voting record, which for an "independent" is pretty shocking, unless of course you are a repub. I suspect he's also a card carrying ALEC member as well or soon will be.
Homer J Simpson October 02, 2012 at 07:29 PM
ollie D,..are you serious? Warren has been attacking Brown's credibility from day one, lying about his voting record! What's that if not personnal. You want issues, here ya go,..Brown has been one of the most independent voters in Senate history, has been and will continue to look out for the people of Massachusetts. Warren was paid $200,00 for a part time government job as a chairperson on a congressional oversight comitee that was responsible for seeing that Wall Street bail out money was spent properly. How's that workin' for ya Mr Moon(bat)! SHOW ME THE MONEY,...Ya right Moon, Brown and repubs are the ONLY ones to ever cash in on lobbyists,..Ollie,..Mass. voters are lemmings, anthing with a D next to it's name,..idiots!
OllieD October 02, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Sorry you have to respond with personal attacks - j"Mr. Moon(bat). But then you are a follower of Brown thus that explains it. How did the bail out for Wall Street work out - TARP started under Bush's administration if you can think back that far. Belief of a majority of economists - those who study this sort of thing - is that it did prevent the US economy from falling into a 1930's type depression. Get that, A DEPRESSION with unemployment over 25%,bank closing, folks like you selling pencils on street corners. Would love to continue conversation with facts if you can get by your H. Carr type comments, or is that all you have.
Homer J Simpson October 02, 2012 at 10:07 PM
wow. The only 'economists' as you boldly call these Obama rump swabs (yeah,..ehh ehhHowie Carr told me to say that) to point that out are the same ones that told the American people to look the other way concerning bonuses handed out to millionaire bankers. We would'nt have fallen into a 1930's depression Mr. Obama/Bush talking points! Since YOU brought up Bush, (if you can remember back that far) (oh that's right,..I'm the only one getting personal) when did I ever say I thought there was anything redeemable about his policies? Look, I have'nt much interest in arguing with a liberal who thinks the country would run great if there were no republicans....they have countries like that,...they are called dictatorships. I have plenty of bullets left,..even tried to put them here but it was too many characters to be posted,..trust me your getting off easy,..good luck in the future.
Homer J Simpson October 02, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Mr. Moon: I'm sure you're a good man, don't wish to call your integrity into question,..who knows,..I might even like you if you were a neighbor. Fact is,..we aint gonna change each others mind. none the less, here are some facts you requested: Elizabeth Warren once fought (for Traveler's Insurance company) to stay them from paying benefits to victims of Mesothelioma Ms. Warren earns a hefty $350,000 annual salary as a professor. She teaches one class. It's even alledged she was given a particular status at Harvard based on a bogus claim of native American heritage. FACT: She rails about bonus money from the bailouts (which was what I was referring to) given to CEO's,..yet she was on the oversight comitee! FACT, she called Scott Brown a rich republican,..her personal wealth is nearly twice what his is. That's called hypocracy Mr. Moon. Here's one last thing: Brown has already angered republicans for not voting lock step,..do you think, even for a moment that Warren will vote 'yea' on anything passed by a Republican house majority? I don't,..Im an independent voting for Brown,..again. NUFF SAID, BEAVIS!


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