In their third debate tonight, Republican US Senator Scott Brown portrayed himself as a bipartisan lawmaker who was determined not to increase people’s tax burden, while Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren methodically listed votes by Brown in the Senate that she said demonstrated that Brown was on the side of “millionaires and billionaires”, not average citizens.
The two candidates, speaking before an audience of more than 2,600 people at Springfield’s Symphony Hall, addressed a variety of topics, including jobs, health care costs, the high cost of college, how to cut the federal budget, and policies affecting women.
Moderator Jim Madigan of WGBY-TV (Channel 57) steered the candidates, who stood at lecterns on the stage under a giant American flag, through a series of questions. Allotted set times to respond to Madigan’s questions and for rebuttals, the candidates did not shout or interrupt each other. But the audience occasionally broke a pre-debate pledge not to cheer or boo.
One topic not raised by Madigan — and not shoehorned in by the candidates — was Warren’s claims of Native American heritage. Brown, in the first two debates, had questioned whether Warren is Native American and whether she got special treatment because of it in her career.
Warren struck the first sparks on the first question, which was about how to create jobs, as she swiftly pivoted to criticize Brown for voting against three jobs bills, saying he had done so because it would have meant an increase in taxes “not for most people but for those making a million dollars or more.”
“Tomorrow will be the one-year anniversary of Senator Brown’s first vote against jobs,” she said.
Brown shot back, “It’s also the one-year anniversary of me protecting people’s pocketbooks and wallets.” He said the bills had been rejected “in a bipartisan manner.” (A handful of Democrats did join Republicans in the votes against the jobs bills, the Globe reported after the last debate.)
Asked what he would do about the rising cost of health care, Brown said he was proud of the state’s health care reform bill, but opposed Obamacare, which he said would “crush Massachusetts businesses.” He also charged that it would remove “three-quarters of a trillion dollars” from the Medicare program, a charge that was also brought by Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential debate last week.
“That’s the same playbook that Mitt Romney used a week ago tonight. It was wrong then, it’s wrong tonight,” responded Warren, who said the plan was actually to “take waste, fraud, and insurance subsidies out and strengthen Medicare.”
Warren again targeted Brown’s votes when the two candidates were asked about the high cost of college, saying that Brown had voted twice last year to let interest rates on student loans double.
“The whole idea is to say, What are your priorities? Is it protecting loopholes for millionaires or helping college kids pay for an education?” she said.
Brown ventured into personal territory in his rebuttal, saying that one of the “driving forces” behind rising bills was “administrative costs” and noting Warren’s salary at Harvard, which he said was “about $350,000 to teach one course.” He also said he had voted against the bill because he didn’t want to burden small business owners with higher taxes and that eventually, working together in a “bipartisan way,” the Senate had passed a bill.
Asked about spending cuts, Warren said she would make cuts in agricultural subsidies and in military spending, but she pledged not to make cuts in Medicare or Social Security benefits. “I also believe we have to raise revenues,” she said.
Brown said he would repeal Obamacare and sell all excess federal property. He also said, “I’ve never voted for a tax increase and I’m not going to raise taxes on any American.”
On issues affecting women, Brown said he lived in a “house full of women” and had been fighting “since I was six years old” to protect women’s rights, referring to his struggles as a boy to protect his mother from his abusive stepfather.
“We’re both pro-choice. We both support Roe v. Wade. There’s no secret about that. I believe very, obviously very much, in women getting the same pay and benefits,” he said.
But Warren again turned to Brown’s voting record, saying that he had voted against equal pay for equal work for women, voted against insurance coverage for birth control, and voted against a pro-choice woman, Elena Kagan, for US Supreme Court.
“Those are bad votes for women. The women of Massachusetts need a senator they can count on not some of the time, but all of the time,” she said.
The candidates also addressed questions about what America should do regarding Syria and the threat of Iran developing a nuclear bomb, and the threat of cuts to military facilities and programs in Massachusetts.
Polls have shown the two candidates locked in a close race. The race is being closely watched nationally, as Warren and her fellow Democrats try to maintain control of the Senate, while Brown tries to help the GOP claim it, along with the US House and the White House.
A state senator from the town of Wrentham who was little known beyond his district, the telegenic Brown won a surprise victory against Attorney General Martha Coakley in the January 2010 special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of long-time Democratic US Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
While he appeared to have been boosted by the Tea Party wave that would continue in the November 2010 elections, Brown has emphasized his independence as he seeks votes in the traditionally Democratic state.
Warren entered the race about a year ago, instantly becoming the Democratic frontrunner, seen as a candidate with intellectual firepower with a record of fighting for ordinary people. She was known for her criticism of the financial industry, which she has accused of carrying out predatory practices. Her work in Washington included setting up a new consumer protection agency.
The debate was sponsored by a media consortium including the Springfield Republican, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Western New England Public Television, the local broadcast network affiliates, the University of Massachusetts, and Western New England University.
The debate was the third of four. The final debate will be Oct. 30 in Boston, sponsored by a media consortium including The Boston Globe.
Click here to read the live blog of the debate by the Globe’s Glen Johnson.Glen Johnson of the Globe staff contributed to this report.