BOSTON, Mass.—U.S. Senator Scott Brown and Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren exchanged barbs over taxes, energy, and family matters in the first televised debate of their highly contested U.S. Senate race Thursday night. Yet the back-and-forth evening, which turned as much on character as policy issues, provided an introduction to the candidates that was marked as much by similarities as by differences.
For Brown, a moderate Republican, the WBZ-TV debate was a chance to show the left-leaning Bay State his independent voting record and beliefs. He took the opportunity time and again to make clear his distance from the national Republican mainstream. Warren, the relative newcomer to the political stage, spent most of the evening challenging Brown on that record and laying out her own stances on the economy, the environment, and the Massachusetts race’s role in national politics.
The debate began with a question from the moderator, WBZ political analyst Jon Keller, about the much-discussed role of character in the race. Brown wasted no time in challenging Warren on claims she made about her ancestry while a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. He alleged that Warren claimed Native American status to gain an advantage in the hiring process.
“Professor Warren claimed she was a person of color, and as you can see, she is not,” Brown said.
In denying Brown’s charges, Warren turned the conversation away from personal claims to Brown’s own record, which she said throughout the debate had hurt the people of Massachusetts. She singled out several job-creating bills that Brown voted against, accusing the senator of holding the middle class captive in his effort to preserve tax cuts for the top one percent of earners.
“I want to go to Washington to fight for jobs,” Warren said, later adding,“Let me say—I’ll make it crystal clear—I will never vote to raise taxes on working families, ever”
Brown refuted Warren’s claims, pointing out that the bills he struck down would have increased taxes on the middle class—something that he too pledged not to do. He said that Warren’s own plan for economic growth for Massachusetts would kill 700,000 jobs nationwide.
Discussing the environment, Brown said he is in favor of an “all of the above” solution, harnessing wind, solar, natural gas, geothermal, and other traditional energy sources like coal and oil to stimulate the economy while reducing climate-altering greenhouse gases. Warren said the country needs to start leaving polluting forms of energy behind.
The two candidates largely agreed on issues of foreign policy, women’s health and contraception, and education. Brown worked to show that his stances, which are more liberal than those of most of his party, are in line with Massachusetts Democratic voters. He said he supports abortion rights, low-interest loans for students, and withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“The bottom line here: The only way we are going to get this done is to work together in a bipartisan manner, and I’m the only one in this room right now that is going to do that,” Brown said, highlighting his willingness to cross the political aisle. “Professor Warren would vote with her party 100 percent of the time.”
Brown and Warren both spoke favorably of President Barack Obama, who has remained very popular in Massachusetts. Brown remained conspicuously silent when Warren poked at his support for fellow Massachusetts Republican Mitt Romney.
Warren concluded the debate by emphasizing the importance of the race nationally. “This really may be the race for the control of the U.S. Senate. So it’s not just about Senator Brown’s vote, it’s about the votes of all of the Republicans,” she said.
Polls have shown Brown and Warren running neck and neck in recent weeks. The next of three remaining televised debates is scheduled for Oct. 1 in Lowell, Mass.
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