This snippet from last night's debate between Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Scott Brown really encapsulates the theme of the evening, and of the larger issues at stake in this national election.
I'm concerned about how the Senator has voted. And he has voted that billions of dollars of your tax money should go to the oil industry. They’re already making big profits. That's not where tax payer money should go. This is really about how we're going to solve our financial problems. And giving breaks to those at the top to those who are already making billions of dollars in profits? That's not how we solve our financial problems. That's not how we get this economy started again. This is a real difference between the senator and me. This is really about whose side you stand on. He has made it clear. He stands with subsidies for the oil companies, he stands for breaks for the billionaires, he stands for the top folks getting special deals. I am out there for working families and small businesses. That is why I am in this race.That was the substance of the debate, essentially, in which Warren was pretty effective in making her point that yes, Scott Brown really is, and votes like, a Republican. It also blunted Brown's sometimes nastily personal and frantic attempts to paint Warren as "The Professor," as he insisted on calling her the entire debate, as some kind of radical, saying she was "obsessed with raising taxes." It just didn't work, because standing on the side of working families and small businesses just isn't radical.
But how did the local press see the debate?
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Here's Boston Globe reporter, Glen Johnson:
[F]rom the opening exchange on, a spirited debate unfolded in which Brown worked to seed doubts about “Professor Warren.” She worked just as hard to hold him accountable for votes he has cast since joining the Senate two years ago.Now for the not-so-objective view, from WBUR's Republican and Democratic commentators Todd Domke and Dan Payne. Domke, the Republican, calls it a draw.
For Warren, the hour-long, unfiltered forum offered more upside, with Brown having near 100-percent name recognition and her still introducing herself to the electorate. [...]
For Brown, it was to continue branding Warren as a tax-and-spend liberal and someone lacking his everyman image. The Republican called her “radical” several times. [...]
In those twin contexts, the candidates gave their supporters no reason to feel any doubts about them.
Sen. Scott Brown came in as the more likable candidate, but he didn’t leave that way. At times he seemed to smirk while talking and listening. And while his personal attacks on Warren were intended to throw her off her game and put her on the defensive in post-debate news coverage, he seemed a little too pleased in attacking so personally.The Democrat, Dan Payne, saw a Warren win over the "repetitive" Brown.
Elizabeth Warren seemed to be playing a role: earnest, innocent populist. She obviously had been coached to sound less like a complaining, lecturing professor. But trying to play “Mrs. Smith Goes To Washington,” she came across as a pol delivering memorized lines.
If you like your debater to be condescending, snide, repetitive, off topic, rote, eager to get personal, willing to toss out extraneous comments and charges, and full of phony manners (thanking the host for every question), then Sen. Scott Brown is your man.
His dark, hyperkinetic style in the first U.S. Senate debate revealed that he thinks he’s in trouble and needed to commit hard fouls on “Professor” Warren, who looked calm, reasonable, thoughtful and authentic. She didn’t wag her finger once.
Her theme was it’s not what you say, it’s how you vote that matters. Judging from the number of times he said it, his theme was “thank you.”
When the Republican can only be generous enough to Brown to call it a draw, while acknowledging that Brown came off as an asshole, it means that it was a Warren win. She won both on substance, and on style.
Brown has three more debates to try to recover his nice-guy image, but with Warren taking this first debate, and surging in the polls, it's going to be hard for him to keep the desperation, and the nastiness, at bay.