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.
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 mother 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 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. Brown then blurted out "Justice Kennedy" and then named Chief Justice John Roberts and Sonya Sotomayor.
- 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 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.