Vicki Kennedy invites Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren to US Senate debate, Warren accepts

Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, has invited Senator Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, to a debate in September moderated by former newsman Tom Brokaw.

The Warren campaign on Monday night agreed to participate in the match up; a spokesman for Brown said his campaign would consider the request.

In a letter received by both candidates last Friday, Vicki Kennedy said the debate would be co-sponsored by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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“The EMK Institute is non-partisan and committed to educating our public about our government—especially the United States Senate,” Kennedy wrote. “UMass Boston, the only public university in the city, is dedicated to opening the doors of educational opportunity. ...The missions of the EMK Institute and the university dovetail perfectly with the goal of a serious Senate debate and exchange of ideas.”

It would be held Sept. 26 at the UMass Boston Campus Center, broadcast locally on NBC-TV affiliates, and possibly to a national audience via MSNBC. Brokaw was the longtime anchor of NBC Nightly News.

In a statement Monday night, Warren’s campaign said the candidate looks forward to participating.

“Since this contest is for the office Senator Kennedy held for close to half a century, it is appropriate the candidates honor his memory and many accomplishments by debating the real issues facing working men and women in Massachusetts,” campaign manager Mindy Myers said in a statement.

Brown spokesman Colin Reed said Monday: “Everything is under consideration. Scott Brown has already committed to four debates, including two radio forums that Elizabeth Warren has refused to accept.”

The proposed date of the debate falls on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews. The Senate is also tentatively scheduled to be in session that week. Warren’s campaign said it is open to other dates and plans to discuss alternatives with the organizers.

Brown and Warren have already agreed to two televised debates, one hosted by WBZ-TV in Boston, and another sponsored by a consortium of media outlets in western Massachusetts. No dates have been set.

Warren has also signed on for a televised matchup run by a Boston media consortium, while Brown said he would participate in two radio face-offs.

The latest debate challengeemphasizes the role Vicki Kennedy wants to play in linking the Senate seat formerly held by her husband to his legacy.

UMass Boston was the scene of a Jan. 11, 2010, debate during the special election to succeed Edward Kennedy, who died in August 2009 of brain cancer.

As Brown debated the early favorite to succeed Kennedy, Democrat Martha Coakley, moderator David Gergen asked the Republican if he could vote down a federal health care overhaul knowing “I’m going to sit in Teddy Kennedy’s seat and I’m going to be the person who’s going to block it for another 15 years?”

Brown replied, “Well with all due respect, it’s not the Kennedys’ seat, and it’s not the Democrats’ seat, it’s the people’s seat.”

The line has since become Brown’s political mantra.

The senator, meanwhile, has sought to nurture his relationship with Vicki Kennedy.

In April 2011, when ground was broken on the EMK Institute, Brown flew up from Washington amid Senate business so he could speak at the event. The institute is being built on Columbia Point, between UMass Boston and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.

“I told you I’d come,” Brown said to Vicki Kennedy. As the groundbreaking audience started to chuckle, Brown looked out and added, “A little surprise to everybody, isn’t it?”

In February, though, Brown angered Patrick Kennedy, one of Edward Kennedy’s sons and a former US House member from Rhode Island, when the senator said in a radio ad that “like Ted Kennedy before me, I support a conscience exemption in health care for Catholics and other people of faith.”

Warren had complained that an amendment Brown supported could allow insurance companies to deny contraception and other health insurance coverages if an employer cites a religious objection to the practice.

“Providing health care to every American was the work of my father’s life. The Blunt Amendment you are supporting is an attack on that cause,” Patrick Kennedy wrote to Brown.